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The   Channels  of  English  Literature 


ENGLISH    BIOGRAPHY 


The  Channels  of  English  Literature 

Edited  by  OLIPHANT  SMKATON,  M.A. 


ENGLISH   EPIC  AND   HEROIC  POETRY. 
By    Professor    W.    MACNEILE    DIXON,    M.A., 
University  of  Glasgow. 

ENGLISH  LYRIC  POETRY. 
By  ERNEST  RHYS. 

THE  ENGLISH  DRAMA. 

By  Professor  F.  E.  SCHELLING,  Litt.D., 
University  of  Pennsylvania. 

ENGLISH  PHILOSOPHERS  AND  SCHOOLS 
OF  PHILOSOPHY. 

By  Professor  JAMES  SETH,  M.A.,  University 
of  Edinburgh. 

THE  ENGLISH  ESSAY  AND  ESSAYISTS. 
By    Professor    HUGH    WALKER,    LL.D.f    St. 
David's  College,  Lampeter. 

THE  ENGLISH  NOVEL. 

By  Professor  GEORGE  SAINTSBURY,  D.Litt., 
University  of  Edinburgh. 

ENGLISH   BIOGRAPHY. 

By  Professor  WALDO  H.  DUNN,  Litt.D.,  The 
College  of  Wooster,  U.S.A. 

ENGLISH     ELEGIAC,     DIDACTIC,     AND 
RELIGIOUS  POETRY. 

By  the  Very  Rev.  H.  C.  BEECHING,  D.D., 
D.Litt.,  Dean  of  Norwich,  and  the  Rev. 
RONALD  BAYNE,  M.A. 

ENGLISH    HISTORIANS    AND    SCHOOLS 
OF  HISTORY. 

By  Professor  RICHARD  LODGE,  University 
of  Edinburgh. 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

BY 

WALDO    H.    DUNN,  M.A.,Lrrr.D. 

PROFESSOR   OF   THE    ENGLISH    LANGUAGE   AND    LITERATURE 


IN    THE    COLLEGE    OF    WOOSTER,    U.S.A. 


LONDON,    PARIS,    AND    TORONTO 

J.  M.  DENT  &  SONS  LIMITED 
NEW  YORK  :    E.  P.  DUTTON  &  CO. 

1916 


DS 

All  rights  reserved 


So 
F.  G.  D. 

PATIENT,    STEADFAST,    LOYAL 
COMRADE    IN    THE    QUEST 


PREFACE 

IN  harmony  with  the  common  purpose  of  the  other  volumes 
which  belong  to  this  series,  I  have  made  an  attempt  to 
trace  the  genesis  and  evolution  of  English  biography,  and 
to  furnish  those  who  may  care  to  devote  themselves  to  a 
further  study  of  the  subject  with  sufficient  materials  in 
the  way  of  references  to  sources  to  enable  them  to  make 
at  least  a  beginning  toward  the  accomplishment  of  their 
desire.  I  believe  I  am  right  in  saying  that  this  is  the  first 
book  in  the  English  language  devoted  to  a  careful  and 
somewhat  exhaustive  study  of  the  subject.  So  far  as  I 
know,  it  is  the  first  of  its  kind  in  any  language.  Beyond 
brief  articles  in  encyclopaedias  and  magazines,  reviews  of 
biographies  in  periodicals,  and  a  few  short  treatises,  the 
great  subject  of  biography  has  remained  untouched. 

No  one  can  be  more  conscious  than  myself  of  the  limita 
tions  of  the  discussion  herewith  presented.  I  feel  that  I 
have  made  only  a  beginning  in  a  work  that  is  sure  to  be 
continued.  Biography  as  an  Art;  Biography  as  Litera 
ture;  Biography  in  its  Relations  to  History,  Fiction, 
Psychology,  and  Medical  Science;  The  Use  of  Letters  in 
Biography — all  these  subjects,  and  more  besides,  will  some 
day  be  adequately  treated.  They  can  be  only  hinted  at, 
or  touched  upon  briefly,  in  a  book  of  this  kind.  Yet,  again, 
the  whole  question  of  a  bibliography  of  biography  remains. 
The  lists  herewith  given  in  the  appendix  are  not  meant 
to  be  complete;  they  but  illustrate  certain  portions  of 
the  main  text,  and  are  intended  to  be  only  suggestive. 
There  is  great  need  of  an  approximately  complete  biblio- 

vii  b 


viii  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

graphy  of  the  subject  which  will  enumerate  and  evaluate, 
for  the  student  and  the  general  reader,  the  really  worth 
while  works.  Some  one  may  perform  a  real  service  to 
students  by  preparing  a  complete  list  and  a  critical  dis 
cussion  of  the  short  lives  and  memoirs  of  the  sixteenth  and 
seventeenth  centuries.  The  preparation  of  such  biblio 
graphies  will  be  the  work  of  years,  but  I  have  no  doubt 
that  it  will  some  day  be  accomplished. 

I  have  met  with  much  encouragement  in  the  prosecution 
of  this  work,  and  owe  a  large  debt  of  gratitude  to  many. 
The  Rev.  Thomas  Davidson,  Nevill  Forbes,  M.A.,  Reader 
in  Russian  at  Oxford  University,  M.  Jules  Jusserand, 
French  Ambassador  to  the  United  States  of  America,  and 
Robert  S.  Rait,  M.A.,  Professor  of  Scottish  History  and 
Literature  in  the  University  of  Glasgow,  have  kindly 
furnished  information,  and  helped  me  by  way  of  suggestion 
in  forming  critical  and  comparative  estimates.  Sir  Sidney 
Lee  has  likewise  kindly  directed  me  to  useful  information, 
has  allowed  me  to  quote  from  his  writings  on  biography, 
and  has  otherwise  personally  encouraged  me.  Hugh 
Walker,  LL.D.,  Professor  of  English  in  St.  David's  College, 
Lampeter,  was  good  enough  to  read  a  portion  of  the  work 
in  manuscript.  My  friend  and  colleague,  Walter  Edwin 
Peck,  M.A.,  Assistant  Professor  of  Rhetoric  and  English 
Composition  in  The  College  of  Wooster,  has  followed  the 
whole  work  with  great  interest,  and  has  gone  over  it  all 
in  proof.  Mrs.  Anna  Robeson  Burr,  of  Philadelphia,  whose 
valuable  studies  in  autobiography  have  rendered  my  task 
much  easier,  has  not  only  allowed  me  to  draw  freely  upon 
her  work,  but  has  also  furnished  specific  aid  and  suggestions. 
Upon  none  of  these,  however,  should  the  blame  for  any  of 
the  shortcomings  of  this  book  be  charged.  As  it  stands, 
I  alone  am  responsible  for  the  matter  which  it  contains 
and  for  the  manner  in  which  all  has  been  presented. 


PREFACE  ix 

It  was  my  great  privilege  to  be  associated  during  the 
entire  period  in  which  I  was  engaged  upon  this  work  with 
W.  Macneile  Dixon,  Litt.D.,  Professor  of  English  Litera 
ture  in  the  University  of  Glasgow.  The  example  of  his 
high  scholarship  "  lightly  borne,"  together  with  the  self- 
effacing  kindness  of  true  culture,  has  been  an  inspiration 
to  me.  He  has  never  failed  to  have  "  a  heart  at  leisure 
from  itself  "  sufficiently  to  permit  him  to  sympathise  with 
the  most  trivial  interests  of  my  every-day  life. 

To  the  Court  and  the  Senate  of  the  University  of  Glasgow 
I  owe  thanks  for  privileges  accorded  me  during  the  two 
years  which  I  spent  as  a  Research  Student  in  that  institu 
tion.  Within  the  hospitable  gates  of  that  ancient  seat  of 
learning,  and  in  connexion  with  the  department  of  English 
Literature,  the  most  of  this  work  was  prosecuted.  For 
many  courtesies,  I  wish  to  thank  the  officials  of  the  Library 
of  the  University  of  Glasgow,  the  Mitchell  Library,  Glasgow, 
the  Bodleian  Library,  Oxford  University,  and  the  Advo 
cates'  Library,  Edinburgh.  To  The  College  of  Wooster  I 
am  deeply  indebted  for  the  gift  of  the  time  during  which 
this  study  was  carried  on. 

WALDO  H.  DUNN. 

DUNOON,  SCOTLAND. 
June  1916. 


INTRODUCTION 

DOUBTLESS,  few  people  have  ever  taken  the  trouble  to 
put  the  definite  query,  What  is  biography?  Fewer  still, 
perhaps,  have  ever  attempted  to  formulate  an  answer  to 
what  seems  so  easy  a  question.  When  we  do  seek  for 
enlightenment,  no  host  of  critics  can  be  summoned  to  our 
aid  as  in  the  case  of  such  other  forms  of  literature  as 
poetry  and  prose  fiction;  for,  as  yet,  biography  has  not. 
been  made  to  any  great  extent  the  subject  of  critical 
analysis  and  discussion.  Such  criticism  as  exists  is  scattered 
chiefly  throughout  reviews — often  hastily  and  perfunctorily 
written — or  is  contained  in  a  few  remarks  now  and  then 
made  by  biographers  in  the  course  of  their  narratives. 
Evidently,  it  has  been  generally  taken  for  granted  that 
every  one  knows  what  biography  is. 

It  is  true  that  definitions  are  usually  unsatisfactory, 
and  that  most  of  us  get  along  very  well  in  using  words 
which  we  should  be  puzzled  to  define  logically.  Yet  not 
for  this  reason  should  the  process  of  defining  be  set  aside 
as  useless,  or  unnecessary :  attempts  at  definition  are  help 
ful  in  clarifying  thought-processes,  and  the  results  are,  at 
least,  suggestive,  affording  points  of  departure  for  further 
discussion.  We  may  see  how  needful  is  the  attempt  in  the 
present  instance  by  the  briefest  glance  at  what  have  usually 
passed  for  definitions  of  biography.  Plutarch  set  before 
himself  the  task  of  "  writing  the  lives  of  famous  persons" 
of  "  comparing  the  lives  of  the  greatest  men  with  one  another" 
No  further  thought  of  expressing  more  definitely  what  is 
meant  by  lives  seems  to  have  occurred  to  any  one  until 
John  Dryden,  in  1683,  introduced  the  word  biography  into 


xii  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

the  English  language  and  declared  it  to  be  "  the  history  of 
particular  men's  lives." 

To  say  that  biography  is  the  history  of  one  man's  life 
is,  at  least,  to  be  clear  and  succinct,  but  the  definition  is 
no  more  than  a  beginning  of  the  expository  process.  It 
is  easy  enough  to  say  that  the  history  of  a  man's  life 
constitutes  his  biography;  it  is  not  so  easy  to  declare 
what  should  go  to  make  up  the  history;  still  less  easy  to 
say  just  what  is  meant  by  the  life  of  which  the  history  is 
to  treat.  What  do  we  mean  when  we  speak  of  the  life  of  a 
man?  The  expression  is  common,  and  every  one  knows, 
or  thinks  that  he  knows,  what  the  term  means.  It  is 
clear  that  notions  have  differed  widely  in  the  past,  just 
as  they  differ  widely  in  the  present.  Xenophon  believed 
that  he  was  giving  to  the  world  the  story  of  Socrates'  life 
no  less  truly  than  Adamnan  thought  he  was  presenting 
before  the  eyes  of  his  readers  "  an  image  of  the  holy  life  " 
of  Columba.  How  different  was  the  ideal  of  Samuel  Parr 
from  that  of  James  Boswell  as  to  what  should  present  the 
history  of  the  life  of  Samuel  Johnson.  Different  notions 
in  the  minds  of  the  writers  were  certainly  responsible  for 
the  different  methods  employed  by  Thomas  Carlyle  in  his 
Life  of  Sterling,  by  J.  W.  Cross  in  his  Life  of  George  Eliot, 
and  by  Horace  Traubel  in  his  With  Walt  Whitman  in 
Camden.  Thomas  Jefferson  Hogg  and  Edward  J.  Trelawny 
had  the  opportunity  to  do  for  Shelley  what  Carlyle  did  for 
John  Sterling:  one  has  simply  to  taste  of  their  work  to 
see  how  far  removed  it  is  from  that  of  Carlyle,  to  recognise 
that  it  is  scarcely  comparable  to  the  Life  of  Sterling.  One 
can  hardly  doubt,  however,  that  both  Hogg  and  Trelawny 
were  as  desirous  as  was  Carlyle  of  presenting  the  life  of  a 
man.  It  is  evident  that  we  need  to  expand  the  brief  defini 
tion  somewhat  fully  that  we  may  have  a  standard  to  which 
to  refer  for  purposes  of  evaluation  and  comparison. 


INTRODUCTION  xiii 

Biography  is,  fundamentally,  the  offspring  of  an  inherent 
and  deep-seated  desire  in  man  to  perpetuate  the  memory 
of  a  life.  Go  backward  as  far  as  we  may  into  the  history 
of  the  subject,  the  underlying  purpose  is  always  the  same 
— that  of  memorial.  Some  one  has  lived  who,  by  the  power 
of  his  spirit  or  the  greatness  of  his  achievement,  has  im 
pressed  his  fellow-men;  they,  unwilling  that  his  spirit  and 
achievement  should  perish  even  as  his  body  perished,  have 
undertaken  to  produce  some  kind  of  lasting  memorial. 
From  rude  heaps  of  stones  collected  to  mark  graves,  such 
memorials  have  become  elaborate  monuments  or  magnifi 
cent  temples  upon  which  have  been  inscribed  brief  records 
of  those  in  whose  honour  they  were  constructed.  Or  some 
man,  impressed  by  his  own  spirit  and  achievement,  and 
unwilling  that  all  memory  of  his  journey  through  life 
should  pass  away,  has  taken  care  to  set  up  for  himself  a 
lofty  obelisk  or  a  towering  pyramid  to  defy  the  power  of 
"  Time's  fell  hand."  No  stretch  of  imagination  is  required 
to  see  the  close  connexion  between  such  memorials  and 
the  written  documents,  the  books,  of  later  ages.  As  man 
came  to  understand  that  the  written  and  the  printed  word 
endured  longer  than  marble  and  bronze  he  forthwith 
became  author  rather  than  architect.  Whatever  the 
medium  employed,  however,  the  primary  purpose  of  life- 
record  has  always  been  memorial. 

The  simple  memorial-record  soon  developed  into  some 
thing  more  elaborate.  Such  early  written  documents  as 
have  been  preserved  enable  us  to  follow  the  probable 
stages  by  which  life-narrative  has  developed.  Written 
first  to  perpetuate  the  memory  of  one  who  had  for  some 
reason  excelled  his  fellows,  the  memorial  seemed  to  gain 
in  value  as  something  of  definite  achievement  was  in 
corporated  into  the  record.  To  primitive  men,  deeds  were 
more  impressive  than  the  hidden  spirit  of  which  deeds  are 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

only  the  outward  manifestation;  and  to  them,  great  deeds 
were  of  more  dignity  than  the  small  acts  of  every-day  life. 
The  great  deeds  of  great  men  are,  in  retrospect,  always 
prone  to  seem  greater.  The  memorial,  therefore,  developed 
into  a  narrative,  a  history — usually  panegyric  in  character 
— of  the  outward  great  events  in  the  life  of  a  great  man. 
When  a  writer  happened  not  to  approve  of  the  great  man's 
life,  it  was  an  easy  matter  to  transform  panegyric  into 
diatribe.  By  one  road  or  the  other,  then,  the  narrative 
came  to  serve  an  ethical  purpose.  It  was  easy,  also,  for  the 
man  to  be  almost  forgotten  in  the  course  of  the  narrative 
of  the  events  in  which  he  participated:  the  memorial  life- 
record  became  transformed  into  history.  Again,  it  became 
a  custom  to  arrange  great  men  into  groups,  and  thus  the 
individual  was  well-nigh  lost  in  the  aggregate.  The  clear 
recognition  of  the  individual,  and  of  the  inner  spirit — the 
soul — as  the  source  and  mainspring  of  outward  action;  in 
short,  the  conception  of  life-narrative  as  portrayal  of 
character,  came  at  a  comparatively  late  period  in  the 
history  of  mankind. 

In  the  following  pages  it  is  assumed  that  a  true  biography 
is  the  narrative,  from  birth  to  death,  of  one  man's  life  in 
its  outward  manifestations  and  inward  workings.  The  aims 
of  such  a  true  biography  in  its  simplest  form  would  there 
fore  include  a  record  of  facts  combined  with  some  portrayal 
of  character.  In  proportion  as  such  a  work  approximates 
the  complete  fulfilment  of  these  aims  in  all  their  legitimate 
ramifications,  it  approaches  the  ideal  type;  that  is,  an 
ideal  biography  would  exhibit  the  external  life  of  the  sub- 

^ject,  give  a  vivid  picture  of  his  character,  and  unfold  the 
growth  of  his  mind.  In  this  volume,  the  ideal  type  has  been 
adopted  as  the  standard,  the  test  by  which  all  products  of 
biography  herein  mentioned  have  been  judged.  Biography 
may  be  said  to  develop,  therefore,  in  proportion  to  the 


INTRODUCTION  xv 

degree  of  accuracy  attained  in  the  presentation  of  mere 
facts;  the  measure  of  its  detachment  from  panegyric,  or 
other  didactic  intention;  and  the  extent  to  which  it  recog 
nises  truth  of  character  portrayal  as  its  first  duty.  The 
general  process  of  evolution  towards  such  an  ideal  has  been 
slow,  and  in  this  order:  biographers  have  first  groped 
towards  portrayal  of  character;  then,  by  forsaking  the 
ethical  or  didactic  intention,  have  striven  for  truth  in  such 
portrayal;  and,  last  of  all,  have  insisted  upon  accuracy  in 
matters  of  fact.  It  need  be  no  cause  for  wonder  that 
insistence  upon  accuracy  of  fact  has  come  last.  Biography, 
as  a  kind  of  literary  history,  has  followed  the  course  of 
history  in  general,  and  it  is  only  in  modern  times  that 
strict  scientific  methods  have  been  applied  to  historical 
composition. 

It  was  long  the  custom  of  biographers  to  write  simply 
about  a  man,  to  produce  a  narrative  that  contained  little 
of  the  subject's  own  personality.  Progress  towards  the 
ideal  type  began  when  writers  turned  to  a  use  of  what 
may  be  termed  instruments  of  development.  These  instru 
ments  or  aids  were  such  as  proceeded  directly  from  the 
subject  of  biography  himself,  and  consist  chiefly  of  two 
kinds:  written  documents  and  conversation.  Letters,  ia 
particular,  have  come  to  be  recognised  as  among  the  most 
effective  aids — letters  which  are  not  mere  impersonal 
documents,  but  letters  redolent  of  personality,  letters 
which  reveal  the  inner  spirit,  such  as  those  which  Sprat 
refused  to  employ  in  his  Life  of  Cowley,  and  which  Mason 
wisely  admitted  into  the  Life  of  Gray.  It  would  indeed 
be  interesting  to  consider  fully  the  development  of  letters 
as  a  vehicle  of  self-expression,  to  set  forth  some  compara 
tive  estimate  of  the  extent  to  which  the  biographers  of 
the  world  have  used  them  as  aids  to  biography;  but  the 
task  is  beyond  the  scope  of  this  work.  The  use  of  mere 


xvi  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

impersonal  letters  is  not,  of  course,  peculiar  to  English 
biography;  in  fact,  the  custom  was  adopted  from  outside 
Britain.  Yet,  undoubtedly,  the  clear  recognition  of  the 
value  of  what  may  be  called  the  intimate  letter  as  a  means 
of  character  portrayal  in  biography  is  due  to  English 
writers ;  and  a  somewhat  exhaustive,  though  not  complete, 
comparison  reveals  that  the  English  have  used  letters  for 
such  a  purpose  in  greater  numbers  and  to  better  advantage 
than  have  the  biographers  of  any  other  nation. 

We  have  now  set  forth  what  should  constitute  the  ideal 
biography.  It  is  clear  that  such  a  work  would  be  pure 
biography ;  that  is,  in  unfolding  the  life-narrative — in 
exhibiting  the  external  life,  in  giving  a  vivid  picture  of 
character,  and  in  delineating  growth  of  mind — it  would 
so  subordinate  all  else — such  as  the  exposition  of  events, 
references  to  other  persons,  and  critical  discussions  of  work 
accomplished  by  the  subject — as  to  cause  no  distraction 
whatever  to  the  mind  of  the  reader.  All  the  attention 
would  be  focused  upon  the  subject:  for  the  purposes  of 
such  a  work,  the  subject  would  stand,  for  the  time  being, 
in  the  centre  of  things;  other  persons,  all  events,  all  work 
accomplished,  would  be  explicable  and  would  need  explana 
tion  only  in  so  far  as  they  were  immediately  connected 
with  him.  The  Rev.  Edward  Edwards,  in  writing  his  Life 
of  Raleigh,  had  in  mind  the  production  of  pure  biography. 
When  writers  succeed  in  producing  such  pure  life-narrative, 
history  proper  will  be  definitely  and  finally  separated  from 
biography.  So  difficult  are  the  problems  involved,  however, 
that  pure  biography  is  likely  always  to  remain  only  an  ideal 
towards  which  to  strive ;  but  the  ideal  should  never  be  lost 
sight  of. 

Autobiography  differs  from  biography  in  that  it  is  a 
life-narrative  written  by  the  subject  himself,  and  cannot 
therefore  attain  the  organic  and  artistic  completeness  which 


INTRODUCTION  xvii 

we  have  come  to  associate  with  a  record  written  by  another. 
It  must  always  come  to  a  close  before  the  life  of  the  writer. 
Nevertheless,  the  true  autobiography  is,  in  other  respects, 
similar  to  the  true  biography,  and  must  exhibit  like  aims. 
Similarly,  also,  it  approaches  the  ideal  as  it  approximates 
the  qualities  already  enumerated  in  the  discussion  of  the 
ideal  biography.  Of  recent  years — notably  since  the  begin 
ning  of  the  nineteenth  century — autobiography  has  come 
to  be  regarded  as  a  distinct  literary  form  with  charac 
teristics  and  requirements  peculiar  to  itself.  It  is  indeed 
closely  related  to  what  in  general  we  call  biography,  yet 
it  is  definitely  separated  from  it.  Its  independence  within 
its  own  realm  is  secure  and  permanent. 


To  make  the  intent  of  certain  statements  in  this  volume 
clear  beyond  question,  and  to  avoid  misapprehension  on 
the  part  of  the  reader,  a  few  preliminary  remarks  may  not 
be  out  of  place.  Before  the  time  of  Izaak  Walton,  biography 
in  Britain  may  justly  be  spoken  of  as  incidental;  that 
is,  there  were  none  who  may  be  termed  professional 
biographers.  Either  the  authors  turned  from  their  usual 
employments  to  write  a  single  memorial  composition,  or, 
in  treating  of  historical  events,  they  incidentally  produced 
something  that  only  approximated  biography.  It  ic  true 
that  Walton,  in  the  first  place,  began  his  work  almost  by 
accident,  and  largely  by  way  of  memorial;  he  soon,  how 
ever,  became  a  biographer  by  deliberate  intention.  Hence 
we  are  justified  in  thinking  of  him  as  the  first  deliberate 
biographer  in  English,  as  the  first  to  pass  from  the  pro 
duction  of  a  single  work  to  the  project  of  completing  a 
series  of  individual  lives.  In  this  sense,  he  may  be  said  to 
stand  alone — to  be  a  pioneer.  There  were,  it  must  be 
admitted,  a  few  biographers  whose  work  plainly  fore- 


xviii  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

shadows  that  of  Walton,  just  as  there  were  voyagers  and 
explorers  before  Columbus.  In  the  department  of  eccle 
siastical  biography,  especially,  one  thinks  of  Lawrence 
Humphrey's  Life  and  Death  of  John  Jewell,  Bishop  of 
Salisbury,  published  in  1573;  of  Sir  George  Paule's  truly 
pleasing  Life  of  John  Whitgift,  Archbishop  of  Canterbury, 
1612;  and  of  Bishop  George  Carleton's  Life  of  Bernard 
Gilpin,  1628.  Of  these  biographers,  both  Humphrey  and 
Carleton  wrote  in  Latin;  Paule,  however,  may  stand  as 
clearly  a  forerunner  of  the  promise  later  fulfilled  in  Walton: 
the  Life  of  Whitgift  is  worthy  of  mention  along  with  any 
of  the  Walton  biographies.  The  separate  works  of  the 
men  just  enumerated  are  scarcely  comparable,  however, 
to  the  biographical  labours  of  the  author  of  The  Compleat 
Angler.  Walton  marks  not  only  the  distinction  between 
incidental  and  deliberate  biography,  but  also  the  beginning 
of  true  artistic  biography  deliberately  undertaken.  He 
gathered  into  himself  such  scattered  impulses  as  were 
exhibited  by  Roper,  Cavendish,  Humphrey,  Paule,  Carleton,, 
andothers,and  gave  them  definitepurpose  and  artistic  expres 
sion.  His  work  was  both  a  culmination  and  an  innovation. 
There  seems,  likewise,  no  reason  to  doubt  that  the 
influence  of  Roper  and  Cavendish  upon  the  general  develop 
ment  of  biography  was  exceedingly  small  until  well  towards 
the  nineteenth  century.  Where  it  can  be  traced  before 
that  time  it  appears  principally  as  a  source  of  history,  or 
as  a  literary  influence  in  connexion  with  Storer  and 
Shakespeare.  It  would  be  going  too  far  to  say  that  their 
work  had  no  direct  influence  upon  the  course  of  true 
biography  before  the  nineteenth  century;  it  seems  clear, 
however,  that  the  influence  is  almost  negligible.  Could 
these  works  only  have  been  printed  earlier  and  circulated 
extensively,  the  development  of  intimate,  artistic  biography 
might  have  been  greatly  accelerated. 


INTRODUCTION  xbt 

In  treating  so  large  a  subject  in  a  space  so  brief,  it  can 
scarcely  be  hoped  that  a  true  sense  of  proportion  has,  in 
every  case,  been  exhibited.  It  has  been  necessary  to  leave 
unmentioned,  as  not  coming  within  the  direct  scope  of 
this  work,  many  biographies  which  of  themselves  are 
interesting  and  important.  Likewise,  it  has  not  been 
possible  to  do  complete  justice  to  any  single  biography. 
In  many  instances,  particular  works  could  have  much 
more  said  for  them;  are  worthy,  in  fact,  of  detailed  treat 
ment.  Thus,  Adamnan's  Life  of  St.  Columba  does  more 
than  abound  in  the  miraculous  and  merely  summarise 
Columba's  character.  As  the  reader  may  find  out  for 
himself,  it  reveals — even  if  indirectly — many  subtile  traits 
in  the  character  of  the  first  Abbot  of  lona.  Other  topics 
treated  in  the  course  of  the  book  may  seem  to  be  over 
emphasised;  in  particular,  the  space  devoted  to  verse  lives 
and  to  the  discussion  of  "  Characters  "  may  appear  out  of 
proportion.  I  have  run  the  risk  of  over-emphasis  in  these 
directions.  To  be  sure,  verse  lives  of  saints  are  well-nigh 
negligible  in  treating  solely  of  the  evolution  of  biography, 
but  not  in  writing  a  history  of  the  form:  we  need  to 
remember  the  place  which  they  filled;  we  need  to  bear  in 
mind  that  for  centuries — while  the  development  of  prose 
biography  remained  in  abeyance — they  were  the  chief 
manifestation  of  the  biographical  spirit,  and  furnished  the 
principal  source  of  general  reading.  The  average  reader 
has  a  right  to  ask  for  somewhat  detailed  information  in 
regard  to  these  saints'  lives,  as  well  as  to  be  shown  why 
they  have  little  connexion  with  the  subsequent  develop 
ment  of  biography.  Ike  Mirror  for  Magistrates,  as  the 
continuation,  the  legitimate  successor  of  saints*  lives, 
cannot,  for  the  same  reason,  be  passed  over.  It  is  full  of 
biographical  details,  and  no  doubt  is  a  connecting  link 
between  the  prose  work  of  Cavendish  and  the  one  great 


xx  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

verse  life,  Storer's  Wolsey.  The  "  Characters  "  are  the 
children  of  the  biographical  spirit.  That  critics  have  found 
it  necessary  to  point  out  that  they  are  not  important 
factors  in  the  development  of  biography  is  perhaps  suffi 
cient  reason  for  making  it  clear  in  these  pages  just  what 
relation  they  bear  to  the  subject  in  hand.  Other  forms  of 
literature,  in  particular  the  drama,  are  also  related  to 
biography  in  so  far  as  they  mark  the  growing  interest  in 
human  life,  in  individuals.  These  other  forms,  however, 
have  not  been  thought  of  as  so  closely  related  to  biography 
as  the  "  Characters  "  have  been. 

One  topic  I  have  touched  briefly — the  influence  of 
Plutarch  and  the  other  classical  biographers.  I  feel  that 
for  the  purposes  of  this  volume  such  brevity  is  not  a 
mistake.  When  we  say  that  Plutarch,  as  the  "  prince  of 
ancient  biographers,"  was  at  once  an  example  and  a 
stimulus  to  English  biographers,  that  he  made  statements 
so  suggestive  as  to  need  only  amplification  and  illustration, 
we  have  said  all,  perhaps,  that  is  necessary.  Without 
doubt,  the  influence  of  classical  biography  upon  English 
has  been  great  in  many  subtile  ways :  to  trace  these  hidden 
and  often  shadowy  influences  is  no  part  of  the  purpose  of 
this  book. 

The  chapter  divisions  herein  followed  have  made  neces 
sary  a  certain  amount  of  repetition,  not  enough,  it  is  hoped, 
to  be  wearisome.  Whether  biography  preceded  auto 
biography,  or  v ice  versa,  is  an  unsettled  point.  It  is  true, 
at  any  rate,  that  autobiography  did  not  assume  an  im 
portant  place  in  English  until  the  latter  part  of  the 
eighteenth  century,  and  in  this  fact  we  find  justification 
for  deferring  the  treatment  of  autobiography  until  Chapter 
VI.  With  this  much  clearing  of  the  way,  we  may  proceed 
to  the  actual  discussion  of  the  subject  in  hand. 


CONTENTS 

CHAP.  PAGE 

I.  BEGINNINGS  OF  THE  BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE:    LATIN 

PERIOD  (690-1066  A.D.)     .....         i 

II.  THE  PERIOD  OF  TRANSITION  AND  PREPARATION  (1066- 

1500) .19 

III.  ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES 29 

IV.  THE    PERIOD    OF    NEW    BEGINNINGS    IN    ENGLISH 

(1500-1700)       .......       46 

V.  THE    RISE   OF   MODERN    ENGLISH    BIOGRAPHY — THE 

EIGHTEENTH  CENTURY       .         .         .         .         .81 

VI.  THE  RISE  OF  ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY  (720-1799)   .     130 

VII.  BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  NINETEENTH  CENTURY        .         .157 

VIII.  AUTOBIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  NINETEENTH  CENTURY          .     200 

IX.  PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES  OF  THE  PRESENT  .         -213 

X.  A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW 236 

XI.  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE         .         .         .     264 
XII.  IN  CONCLUSION        .......     278 

APPENDIX 287 

INDEX 311 


xxi 


ENGLISH    BIOGRAPHY 


CHAPTER  I 

BEGINNINGS    OF   THE    BIOGRAPHICAL    IMPULSE  I     LATIN 
PERIOD    (690-1066    A.D.) 

BIOGRAPHY  was  for  long,  and  to  a  certain  extent  yet  is, 
the  handmaiden  of  both  history  and  literature.  For  cen 
turies  it  was  recognised  simply  as  a  department  of  history, 
and,  as  life-history,  was  never  considered  a  distinct  species 
of  composition  governed  by  laws  of  its  own.  Later,  when 
there  arose  an  interest  in  writers  as  differentiated  from 
their  writings,  biography  was  called  to  the  aid  of  literature. 
Still  later — not  certainly  and  surely  until  the  nineteenth 
century — it  assumed  its  rightful  place  as  a  dignified  de 
partment  of  English  literature.  Thus  it  is  that  biography 
has  a  two-fold  claim  to  rank  in  the  realm  of  letters.  As  the 
handmaiden  of  literature — for  there  can  be  no  considera 
tion  of  the  products  of  authorship  as  apart  from  the 
authors — it  must  ever  claim  a  share  in  literary  triumphs; 
and,  as  a  unified,  coherent,  artistic  creation,  it  has  assumed, 
and  is  destined  in  a  far  greater  degree  to  assume,  a  high 
rank  in  the  annals  of  literature.  It  will  be  the  purpose  of 
this  volume  to  trace  the  slow,  retarded  evolution  of  bio 
graphy  in  the  British  Islands,  from  its  earliest  manifesta 
tions  in  a  foreign  tongue  to  the  rich  and  full — if  not  always 
or  often  excellent — culmination  in  the  now  widely  diffused 
English  language. 

The  beginnings  of  biography  in  the  British  Isles  are 

A 


2  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

bound  up  with  the  history  of  the  Christian  Church.  It  is 
not  strange  that  this  should  be  the  case;  for,  during  a 
period  of  many  centuries,  the  Church  was  the  focal  point  of 
history,  from  which  emanated  most  of  the  statesmanship 
and  scholarship  of  the  times.  These  beginnings — they  can 
be  called  little  more  than  impulses  to  biography — take  us 
back  to  a  primitive  period  in  the  mind-development  of  the 
inhabitants  of  Britain;  to  an  age  of  wonder  and  credulity; 
to  an  age  when  the  Church,  and  things  pertaining  to  the 
Church,  were  uppermost  in  the  minds  of  the  educated.  It 
was  an  age  over  which  the  only  appreciable  literary  influ 
ence  was  that  of  the  Scriptures  and  Commentaries  thereon. 
For  such  germs  of  biography  as  the  period  affords  we  must 
go  for  the  most  part  to  the  narratives  of  the  lives  and 
miracles  of  saints,  or  to  the  works  of  the  chroniclers  and 
historians.  Sir  Thomas  Duffus  Hardy  in  the  first  two  parts 
(vol.  i.)  of  the  Descriptive  Catalogue  of  Materials  relating  to 
the  History  of  Great  Britain  and  Ireland  gives  a  list  of  1 277 
works,  most  of  which  treat  of  lives  and  miracles  of  saints.1 
Not  until  893,  when  Asser  wrote  the  Life  of  King  Alfred,  do 
we  have  the  life  record  of  a  layman. 

These  early  records  were  written  in  Latin,  and,  for  this 
reason,  have  an  historical  rather  than  a  direct,  linguistic 
relation  to  the  later  development  of  English  biography. 
Latin,  however,  long  continued  to  be  the  language  of 
English  writers;  hence,  a  consideration  of  the  subject  pro 
perly  begins  with  this  period.  From  the  great  mass  of 
material — concerning  much  of  which  there  is  confusion  2  as 

1  "  In  studying  the  Lives  of  the  Saints  which  have  come  to  us 
from  very  early  ages  in  the  Church  down  to  quite  modern  times, 
we  must  remember  that  for  centuries  they  filled  a  place  in  literature 
which  is  now  filled  quite  otherwise.  They  were  the  novels  of  all 
ranks  of  society." — Alfred  Plummer,  The  Churches  in  Britain  Before 
A.D.  1000,  vol.  i.  p.  73. 

•The  following  excerpts  from  Sir  T.  D.  Hardy,  Descriptive 
Catalogue,  vol.  i.  part  i.,  are  important:  "  The  materials  for  our 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  3 

to  date  and  authenticity — it  is  necessary,  for  our  purpose, 
to  select  only  a  few.  While  these  few  belong  chiefly  to  the 
domain  of  history,  it  is  yet  necessary  at  least  to  name 
several  of  the  most  important  out-croppings  of  the  bio 
graphical  impulse,  to  mention  their  chief  characteristics, 
and  to  set  forth  such  development  as  they  evidence;  as 
well  as  to  say  something  of  their  historical  value  to  bio 
graphers  of  a  later  period. 

First  in  point  of  time  comes  Adamnan's  Life  of  St. 
Columba,  written  somewhere  between  690  and  700  A.D. 
Adamnan,  an  Irish  saint  and  historian,  was  in  697  elected 
ninth  abbot  of  lona,  and  thus  became  the  biographer  of  the 
first  abbot,  Columba.  Three  characteristics  at  once  attract 
the  attention  of  a  reader  of  this  memoir:  the  brevity  of  the 
directly  biographical  portion;  the  great  preponderance  of 
the  miraculous  element;  and  the  insistence  upon  the  moral 
of  a  good  life.  The  work  is  not  at  all  chiefly  biographical, 
nor  is  it  largely  historical;  it  is  hagiology.  The  part  of  it 
which  is  biographical  is  reduced  to  the  smallest  compass, 
yet  it  is  in  this  part  that  we  recognise  Columba,  the  man; 
it  is  in  this  part  that  we  recognise  the  germ  of  biography — 
if  not  in  the  English  language,  at  least  in  the  British  Isles. 

history  during  the  first  five  centuries  (which  may  properly  be  called 
the  British  period)  must  be  sought  for.  and  are  to  be  found  only,  in 
the  works  of  the  classical  and  Byzantine  writers,  in  coins  and 
monumental  inscriptions,  in  the  record  of  oral  traditions,  in  the 
writings  of  Gildas  and  Nennius,  and  in  the  lives  of  the  saints.  .  .  . 
[The  age]  was  fruitful  in  biography.  Libraries  abound  with  memoirs 
or  lives  of  eminent  scholars  or  ecclesiastics  of  the  period,  many  of 
them  written  by  the  contemporaries  of  the  persons  celebrated,  and 
valuable  as  containing  facts  and  incidents  recorded  on  personal 
knowledge,  or  anecdotes  obtained  from  oral  testimony"  (p.  xii). 
"  If  possible,  this  source  of  modern  history  is  beset  with  more 
difficulty  and  is  more  perplexing  to  the  critic  than  all  the  confusions 
and  interpolations  which  arrest  his  progress  in  dealing  with  the 
Chronicles  "  (p.  xvii).  "  So  lives  of  saints  come  down  to  us,  like  all 
mediaeval  works,  the  result  of  many  hands — the  complex  and 
intricate  growth  of  different  times,  and  wrought  together  for  different 
purposes"  (p.  xx). 


4  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

"  I  shall  in  the  first  place,"  says  Adamnan,  "  as  briefly  as 
I  can,  give  a  general  summary,  and  place  before  my  reader's 
eyes  an  image  of  his  holy  life."  Here  is  the  portion: 

"  St.  Columba,  then,  was  born  of  noble  parents  ;  his  father  was 
Fedilmith,  son  of  Fergus,  and  his  mother  was  Aethne,  whose  father 
can  be  called  in  Latin  Filius  Navis,  but  in  the  Scotic  tongue  MacNave. 
In  the  second  year  after  the  battle  of  Culedbrina,  and  in  the  forty- 
second  of  his  age,  St.  Columba,  resolving  to  seek  a  foreign  country 
for  the  love  of  Christ,  sailed  from  Scotia  x  to  Britain.  From  his 
boyhood  he  had  been  brought  up  in  Christian  training  in  the  study 
of  wisdom,  and  by  the  grace  of  God  had  so  preserved  the  integrity 
of  his  body,  and  the  purity  of  his  soul,  that  though  dwelling  on 
earth  he  appeared  to  live  like  the  saints  in  heaven.  For  he  was 
angelic  in  appearance,  graceful  in  speech,  holy  in  work,  with  talents 
of  the  highest  order,  and  consummate  prudence;  he  lived  a  soldier 
of  Christ  during  thirty-four  years  in  an  island.  He  never  could  spend 
the  space  of  even  one  hour  without  study,  or  prayer,  or  writing,  or 
some  other  holy  occupation.  So  incessantly  was  he  engaged  night 
and  day  in  the  unwearied  exercise  of  fasting  and  watching,  that  the 
burden  of  each  of  these  austerities  would  seem  beyond  the  power  of 
all  human  endurance.  And  still  in  all  these  he  was  beloved  by  all, 
for  a  holy  joy  ever  beaming  on  his  face  revealed  the  joy  and  gladness 
with  which  the  Holy  Spirit  filled  his  inmost  soul."  * 

In  the  closing  paragraph  of  the  memoir  the  moral  of  a 
good  life  is  drawn  —  the  purpose,  perhaps,  for  which 
Adamnan  wrote : 

"  After  reading  these  three  books,  let  the  diligent  reader  observe 
of  what  and  how  great  merit,  of  what  and  how  high  honour  in  the 
sight  of  God  our  holy  and  venerable  abbot  must  have  been  deemed 
worthy  .  .  . ;  and  how,  even  after  the  departure  of  his  most  kindly 
soul  from  the  tabernacle  of  the  body,  until  the  present  day,  the  place 
where  his  sacred  bones  repose  .  .  .  doth  not  cease  to  be  frequently 
visited  by  the  holy  angels,  and  illumined  by  the  same  heavenly 
brightness.  .  .  .  This  great  and  honourable  celebrity  [the  spread 
of  his  fame  even  to  Rome,  '  the  head  of  all  cities  '],  amongst  other 
marks  of  divine  favour,  is  known  to  have  been  conferred  on  this 

1  Ireland. 

•Translation  of  William  Reeves,  Edition  Life  of  St.  Columba 
(Historians  of  Scotland,  vol.  vi.),  p.  3. 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  5 

same  saint  by  God,  Who  loveth  those  that  love  Him,  and  raiseth 
them  to  immense  honour  by  glorifying  more  and  more  those  that 
magnify  and  truly  praise  Him,  Who  is  blessed  for  evermore."  l 

Adamnan's  Life  of  St.  Columba  has  been  abundantly 
praised.  It  has  been  pronounced  "  the  most  complete  piece 
of  such  biography  that  all  Europe  can  boast  of,  not  only 
at  so  early  a  period,  but  even  through  the  whole  middle 
ages."  Although  it  was  not  intended  for  history,  professing 
to  be  simply  the  record  of  an  individual,  all  historians, 
from  an  early  period  to  the  present,  have  agreed  in  recog 
nising  it  as  "  the  most  authentic  voucher  now  remaining 
of  several  other  important  particulars  of  the  sacred  and 
civil  history  of  the  Scots  and  Picts."  It  is  particularly 
valuable  in  connexion  with  the  history  of  the  Irish  Church, 
of  which  Dr.  William  Reeves  pronounces  it  "  an  inestimable 
literary  relic  .  .  .  perhaps,  with  all  its  defects,  the  most 
valuable  monument  of  that  ancient  institution  which  has 
escaped  the  ravages  of  time."  2 

Worthy  of  mention  after  the  work  of  Adamnan  is  the 
ancient  Life  of  St.  Patrick,  preserved  in  the  Book  of 
Armagh.  This  memoir,  ascribed  to  Muirchu  Maccu  Mac- 
theni,  is  dedicated  to  Aedh,  or  Aidus,  anchorite  and  Bishop 
of  Sletty  in  the  seventh  century  (d.  698),  and  is  thus 

translation  of  William  Reeves,  Edition  Life  of  St.  Columba 
(Historians  of  Scotland,  vol.  vi.),  p.  101. 

•  Edition  of  Life  of  St.  Columba  (Historians  of  Scotland,  vol.  vi.), 
to  which  the  reader  is  referred  for  full  information  in  regard  to  this 
important  work.  This  edition  contains  both  the  Latin  text  and  an 
English  translation.  These  words,  too,  are  worth  noting  here:  "  In 
these  lives  or  acts  lies  the  chief,  oftentimes  the  sole  authority  for 
all  the  knowledge  we  possess,  or  are  ever  likely  to  possess,  of  an  age 
and  a  class  of  men  that  form  an  important  link  in  the  chain  that 
connects  us  with  past  times;  it  is  a  mine,  not  always  the  richest, 
but  often  the  only  one,  to  which  the  historian  of  a  long  interval  in 
the  history  of  this  people  must  look  for  material.  When  he  has 
exhausted  it,  he  has  exhausted  all." — Hardy,  Descriptive  Catalogue, 
vol.  i.  part  i.  p.  xviii.  Wentworth  Huyshe  has  made  an  excellent 
translation  of  the  Life  of  Columba  for  Routl edge's  "  New  Universal 
Library." 


6  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

practically  as  old  as  the  Life  of  St.  Columba.  Maccu  Mac- 
theni  was  one  of  the  earliest  authors  to  collect  material  in 
regard  to  St.  Patrick,  and  for  this  reason  his  work  is 
accounted  the  most  reliable  of  the  existing  biographies  of 
the  Saint.  The  influence  of  the  introductory  verses  of  the 
Gospel  of  St.  Luke  is  clearly  evident  in  the  dedicatory 
preface: 

"  Forasmuch  as  many,  my  lord  Aldus,  have  taken  in  hand  to  set 
forth  in  order  a  narration,  namely  this,  according  to  what  their 
fathers,  and  they  who  from  the  beginning  were  ministers  of  the 
Word,  have  delivered  unto  them;  but  by  reason  of  the  very  great 
difficulty  of  the  narrative  and  the  diverse  opinions  and  numerous 
doubts  of  very  many  persons,  have  never  arrived  at  any  one  certain 
track  of  history;  therefore  (if  I  be  not  mistaken,  according  to  this 
proverb  of  our  countrymen,  Like  boys  brought  down  into  the  amphi 
theatre)  I  have  brought  down  the  boyish  row-boat  of  my  poor 
capacity  into  this  dangerous  and  deep  ocean  of  sacred  narrative, 
with  wildly  swelling  mounds  of  billows,  lying  in  unknown  seas 
between  most  dangerous  whirlpools — an  ocean  never  attempted 
or  occupied  by  any  barks,  save  only  that  of  my  father  Cogitosus. 
But  lest  I  should  seem  to  make  a  small  matter  great,  with  little 
skill,  from  uncertain  authors,  with  frail  memory,  with  obliterated 
meaning  and  barbarous  language,  but  with  a  most  pious  intention, 
obeying  the  command  of  thy  belovedness,  and  sanctity,  and  autho 
rity,  I  will  now  attempt,  out  of  many  acts  of  Saint  Patrick,  to 
explain  these,  gathered  here  and  there  with  difficulty."  l 

The  first  biography  in  England  of  which  we  know  the 
writer,  "  the  earliest  extant  historical  work  compiled  by 
an  Anglo-Saxon  author,"  is  the  Life  of  Wilfrid,  by  Eddius 
Stephanus,  which  dates  from  about  709.  Eddius,  a  choir 
master  in  Kent,  was  summoned  by  Wilfrid,  Bishop  of 
York,  to  assist  in  the  organisation  of  church  services  in 
Northumbria.  Inasmuch  as  Eddius  spent  forty  years  in 

1  Translation  of  James  Henthorn  Todd,  St.  Patrick  Apostle  oj 
Ireland,  p.  402.  The  Rev.  Dr.  John  Gwynn  has  recently  edited  The 
Book  of  Armagh,  Hodges,  Figgis  &  Co.,  Ltd.,  Dublin.  There  is 
another  copy  of  Maccu  Mactheni's  work  preserved  in  a  manuscript 
at  Brussels,  MS.  64,  Royal  Library. 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  7 

the  service  of  Wilfrid,  and  had  at  his  command  the  personal 
knowledge  of  Bishop  Acca  and  Abbot  Tathbert,  to  the 
latter  of  whom  Wilfrid  had  at  one  time  told  in  full  the  story 
of  his  life,  he  was  well  qualified  to  undertake  the  task  of 
biographer.  His  method  is  much  more  logical  than  that  of 
Adamnan.  He  begins  with  the  birth  of  Wilfrid,  proceeds  in 
chronological  order  to  his  death,  and  continues  with  details 
of  miracles  wrought  by  means  of  Wilfrid's  silken  robe,  and 
of  signs  seen  in  the  sky  to  show  that  Wilfrid  was  made 
equal  with  St.  Peter  and  St.  Andrew. 

A  distinct  advance  over  the  work  of  Adamnan  is  the  use 
of  letters  and  documents  connected  with  the  ecclesiastical 
controversies  in  which  Wilfrid  had  a  part.  These  letters  and 
documents — known  to  us  only  through  this  biography — are 
used,  it  must  be  observed,  not  so  much  to  throw  light  on 
the  personality  of  the  individual  as  to  elucidate  the  events 
in  which  Wilfrid  took  part.  The  author  had  no  work  to 
which  to  refer,  save  an  anonymous  Life  of  St.  Cutbbert, 
which  had  been  written  and  kept  at  Lindisfarne.  It  must 
be  said,  though,  that  Eddius  made  good  use  of  this  model ; 
for  he  not  only  borrowed  the  prologue,  "  merely  altering 
the  names,"  but  "in  another  instance  .  .  .  gives  to  his 
patron,  after  he  becomes  Bishop,  the  character  which  had 
been  already  ascribed  with  far  more  justice  to  Cuthbert 
himself."  l  Canon  Raine  points  out,  however,  that  Eddius* 
work  precedes  that  of  the  Venerable  Bede  and  that  the 
events  given  towards  the  end  of  the  fifth  book  of  the 
Ecclesiastical  History  (cap.  xix.)  are  a  summary  of 
Eddius'  Life.  The  Life  of  Wilfrid,  as  biography,  excels 
that  of  Columba,  and  Eddius  deserves  to  be  regarded  as 
"  one  of  the  leaders  in  the  very  front  rank  of  the  vanguard 
of  English  scholars." 

The  work  of  the  Venerable  Bede  next  claims  our  attention. 

1  James  Raine,  Historians  of  York  (Rolls  Series),  vol.  i.  p.  xxxii. 


8  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Although  known  chiefly  as  an  historian,  Bede  has  a  place 
among  the  biographical  writers  of  this  period  by  reason 
of  his  Life  of  St.  Cuthbert  and  Lives  of  the  Abbots  of  the 
Monasteries  of  Wearmouih  and  Jarrow.  It  is  the  prose  Life 
of  St.  Cuthbert)  written  about  721,  in  which  we  are  now 
particularly  interested.  Once,  Bede  informs  us,  he  had 
written  Cuthbert's  life  in  Latin  verse,  a  habit  of  which  there 
are  numerous  examples  scattered  throughout  this  period. 
In  the  prose  Life,  Bede  has  followed  the  chronological  order, 
proceeding  from  Cuthbert's  youth  to  his  death,  and  to  the 
miracles  performed  by  his  relics.  So  far  as  the  miraculous 
element  is  concerned,  the  narrative  harks  back  to  that  of 
Adamnan;  of  the  forty-six  chapters,  thirty-nine  are  con 
cerned  with  miraculous  events.  It  may,  for  this  reason, 
seem  that  no  advancement  whatever  had  been  made  in 
regard  to  the  use  of  miraculous  details  since  Adamnan 
wrote  of  Columba.  It  is  very  evident,  however,  to  the  care 
ful  reader  that  whatever  may  have  been  the  attitude  of 
those  who  examined  Bede's  work  with  such  scrupulous 
care l  and  passed  all  these  stories  without  question,  in  the 
mind  of  Bede  himself  there  was  a  doubt  too  strong  to  be 
entirely  concealed. 

In  remarking  on  the  manner  in  which  Cuthbert  was 
cured  of  a  painful  swelling  in  his  knee  by  following  the 
advice  of  an  angel  which  appeared  to  him,  Bede  says: 
"  And  if  it  should  seem  incredible  to  any  one,  that  an  angel 
should  appear  on  horseback,  let  him  read  the  history  of 
the  Maccabees,  in  which  it  is  related  that  angels  came  on 
horseback  to  the  defence  of  Judas  Maccabeus  and  the 
temple  of  God."  And  again,  in  relating  how  two  crows 
sought  by  prayers  and  gifts  to  appease  Cuthbert  for  an 
injury  they  had  done  to  him,  Bede  remarks,  "  Nor  let  it 

1  As  explained  in  the  dedication  of  the  Life  of  St.  Cuthbert  and  in 
the  preface  to  the  Ecclesiastical  History. 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  9 

seem  absurd  to  any  one  to  derive  a  lesson  of  virtue  from 
birds,  since  Solomon  saith,  *  Go  to  the  ant,  O  sluggard,  and 
consider  her  ways  and  learn  wisdom.'  "  The  Rev.  Stopford 
A.  Brooke  calls  our  attention  to  the  fact  that  when  Bede 
"  is  speaking  in  his  own  person,  he  has  no  knowledge  of  the 
miraculous.  When  he  has  told  the  tale  of  Cuthbert  quench 
ing  in  one  day  a  supernatural  as  well  as  a  natural  fire,  he 
adds,  *  But  I,  and  those  who  are  like  me  conscious  of  our 
own  weakness,  can  do  nothing  in  that  way  against  material 
fire.'  Again,  when  he  speaks  of  the  beasts  and  birds  obey 
ing  Cuthbert — *  We,  for  the  most  part,'  he  says,  *  have  lost 
our  dominion  over  the  creation,  for  we  neglect  to  obey  the 
Lord.'  The  same  careful  note  steals  sometimes  into  the 
Ecclesiastical  History.  It  represents  the  struggle,  it  may  be 
an  altogether  unconscious  struggle,  of  the  temper  of  the 
scholar  who  demands  accuracy  with  the  temper  of  the 
pious  monk  to  whom  the  miraculous  was  so  dear  and  so 
useful."  * 

We  see,  too,  in  this  work  a  yet  more  distinct  emphasis 
upon  the  moral  purpose;  the  Life  is  entirely  a  paean  of 
praise.  Bede  "  is  fond  of  dwelling  upon  the  efficacious 
preaching  of  a  holy  life  " ;  the  moral  purpose  is  uppermost  in 
his  mind.  Indeed,  Bede  has  set  down  in  the  Ecclesiastical 
History  (sect,  i)  his  opinion  in  regard  to  relating  "  good 
things  of  good  men  "  and  "  evil  things  of  wicked  persons  " : 
"  For  when  history  relates  good  things  of  good  men,  the 
attentive  hearer  is  excited  to  imitate  that  which  is  good; 
or  when  it  mentions  evil  things  of  wicked  persons,  neverthe 
less  the  religious  and  pious  hearer  or  reader,  by  shunning 
that  which  is  hurtful  and  perverse,  is  the  more  earnestly 
excited  to  perform  those  things  which  he  knows  to  be  good, 
and  worthy  of  God."  This  practice  may  be  of  value  for  the 
purposes  of  a  moralist;  it  is  scarcely  the  principle  for  a 
1  History  of  Early  English  Literature,  vol.  ii.  p.  160. 


io  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

biographer  to  follow  who  wishes  to  set  forth  a  human  being. 
The  practice  of  relating  only  good  things  of  good  men  was 
carried  to  such  an  extreme  in  the  progress  of  English 
biography  as  to  become  a  vice. 

We  have  said  that  thirty-nine  out  of  the  forty-sir 
chapters  are  concerned  with  the  miraculous.  From  the 
remaining  chapters  we  get  glimpses  of  the  man  Cuthbert 
himself,  and,  from  the  biographical  point  of  view,  these  are 
worth  all  the  rest.  From  such  passages  as  these  we  see  what 
Bede  might  have  done  in  the  way  of  biography  had  he  not 
been  prevented  by  the  spirit  of  the  age  in  which  he  lived: 

"  So  great  moreover  was  Cuthbert's  skill  in  teaching,  so  vast  was 
his  power  of  loving  persuasion,  so  striking  was  the  light  of  his 
angelic  countenance,  that  no  one  in  his  presence  dared  to  conceal 
from  him  the  hidden  secrets  of  his  heart,  but  all  declared  openly  in 
confession  what  each  had  done  amiss,  thinking  in  truth  that  none  of 
his  misdeeds  were  concealed  from  him." 

M  He  was  also  wont  to  seek  out  and  preach  in  those  remote  villages, 
which  were  situated  far  from  the  world  in  wild  mountain  places  and 
fearful  to  behold,  which  as  well  by  their  poverty  and  distance  up 
the  country  prevented  intercourse  between  them  and  such  as  could 
instruct  their  inhabitants.  Abandoning  himself  willingly  to  this 
pious  work,  Cuthbert  cultivated  these  remote  districts  and  people 
with  so  much  zeal  and  learning,  that  he  often  did  not  return  to  his 
monastery  for  an  entire  week,  sometimes  for  two  or  three,  yea  occa 
sionally  for  even  a  full  month;  remaining  all  the  time  in  the  moun 
tains,  and  calling  back  to  heavenly  concerns  these  rustic  people,  by 
the  word  of  his  preaching  as  well  as  by  his  example  of  virtue."  1 

"  Now  there  were  in  the  monastery  certain  monks  who  chose 
rather  to  follow  their  ancient  custom  than  to  obey  the  new  rule. 
These,  nevertheless,  he  overcame  by  the  modest  power  of  his 
patience,  and  by  daily  practice  he  brought  them  by  little  and  little 
to  a  better  disposition.  As  he  frequently  discoursed  in  the  assembly 
of  the  brethren  about  the  rule,  when  he  might  well  have  been 
wearied  out  with  the  sharp  remarks  of  those  that  spoke  against  it, 
he  would  suddenly  rise  up,  and  dismissing  the  assembly  with  a 

1  The  two  foregoing  paragraphs  are  from  chapter  ix. 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  n 

placid  mind  and  countenance,  depart.  But  nevertheless,  on  the 
following  day,  as  if  he  had  suffered  no  opposition  the  day  before, 
he  repeated  the  same  admonitions  to  the  same  audience,  until  by 
degrees  he  brought  them  round,  as  we  have  said,  to  what  he  wished. 
For  he  was  a  man  specially  endowed  with  the  grace  of  patience,  and 
most  invincible  in  stoutly  enduring  all  opposition  that  might  occur, 
whether  to  mind  or  body.  At  the  same  time  he  bore  a  cheerful 
countenance  amid  every  distress  that  might  happen,  so  that  it 
was  clearly  understood  that  he  despised  outward  tribulations  by 
the  inward  consolations  of  the  Holy  Spirit." 

"  His  raiment  was  very  ordinary;  and  he  used  such  moderation 
in  this  respect  that  he  was  not  remarkable  either  for  neatness  or 
slovenliness."  l 

Such  passages  as  these,  together  with  the  account  of  Cuth- 
bert's  illness  and  death,  stand  out  in  welcome  relief  from 
the  mass  of  the  miraculous. 

After  Bede,  biography  in  England  was  continued  by 
Felix,  hermit  of  Crowland,  in  his  Life  of  St.  Guthlac,  written 
between  747  and  749.  The  narrative  is  of  little  intrinsic 
worth,  not  differing  materially  from  other  lives  of  saints. 
It  is  worthy  of  mention  here  because  of  its  connexion  with 
English  literature.  Some  time  in  the  tenth  or  eleventh 
century  it  was  translated  into  Old  English  a  and  no  doubt 
furnished  the  material  for  the  second  part  of  the  St.  Guthlac 
poem  attributed  to  Cynewulf,  and  thus  enables  us  to  estab 
lish  the  only  date  we  have  in  the  life  of  that  mysterious 
writer. 

The  first  biography  of  an  English  layman  is  the  Life  of 
Alfred  the  Great,  the  work  of  Asser,  Bishop  of  St.  David's. 

1  These  two  paragraphs  from  chapter  xvi.  The  translation  is  that 
of  the  Rev.  Joseph  Stevenson  in  The  Church  Historians  of  England, 
vol.  i.  part  ii. 

•  Wanley  ascribed  the  Old  English  prose  translation  of  the  Vita 
Guthlaci  (MS.  Cptt.  Vesp.  D.  xxi.)  to  Aelfric.  C.  W.  Goodwin,  who 
published  an  edition  in  1848,  says:  "  The  Life  of  St.  Guthlac,  hermit 
of  Crowland,  was  originally  written  in  Latin,  by  one  Felix,  of  whom 
nothing  is  with  certainty  known.  .  .  .  When  and  by  whom  the 
translation  was  made  is  unknown:  the  style  is  not  that  of  Aelfric, 
to  whom  it  has  been  groundlessly  ascribed." 


12  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Asser  became  acquainted  with  Alfred  about  884  and 
enjoyed  an  intimate  friendship  with  the  King  until  893,  in 
which  year  the  Life  was  written.  There  is  nothing  to  show 
that  Asser  ever  continued  the  narrative  beyond  the  year 
893,  and  since  Alfred  survived  until  901,  Asser's  work  has 
the  interest  of  contemporaneous  composition.  Asser  had  a 
great  man  as  subject,  yet  he  fails  markedly  as  a  biographer, 
even  when  we  take  into  consideration  the  primitive  stage 
of  life-writing.  He  "  seems  never  to  have  realised  to  himself 
the  honour  to  which  he  had  attained  in  being  selected  to 
become  the  channel  through  which  posterity  should  be 
made  acquainted  with  the  outer  and  inner  life  of '  England's 
darling.'  "  x  The  author  seems  to  have  had  in  mind  no 
definite  plan;  the  work  is  lacking  entirely  in  artistic  skill. 
The  whole  is  a  remarkable  conglomeration  of  history  and 
biography,  a  weaving  together  in  loose  fashion  of  the  Saxon 
Chronicle  and  the  results  of  Asser's  own  acquaintance  and 
observation. 

One  cannot  refrain  from  smiling  at  many  of  Asser's 
whimsical  methods.  Thus,  he  naively  traces  Alfred's 
genealogy  back  to  Adam;  frequently  drags  in  utterly 
irrelevant  material;  and  otherwise  rambles  on  knowingly 
and,  to  all  intents,  wilfully.  His  style  is  rhetorical  and 
verbose;  he  "  gives  one  the  impression  that  the  author 
thought  more  of  the  display  of  his  powers  of  composition 
and  command  of  recondite  words  than  of  the  matter  con 
veyed  by  them.  Sometimes,  it  is  true,  he  shows  a  tendency 
to  excessive  explanation,  but  more  often  his  meaning  is 
obscured  by  a  cloud  of  verbiage."  2  He  is  perhaps  the  most 
hopeless  rambler  of  the  period :  he  seems  to  regard  Alfred  as 
a  thread  on  which  to  string  whatever  stories  came  to  his 
fancy.  He  is  aware  of  the  fact,  too,  as  these  passages  prove: 

1  Stevenson,  The  Church  Historians  of  England,  vol.  ii.  part  ii. 
p.  xiii. 

3  W.  H.  Stevenson,  Asser,  p.  Ixxxix. 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  13 

"  And  now,  to  use  nautical  language,  I  will  no  longer  commit  my 
vessel  to  the  winds  and  waves,  and,  putting  out  to  sea,  steer  a 
roundabout  course  through  the  massacres  of  war  and  the  enumera 
tion  of  years,  but  must  return  to  the  object  which  first  stirred  me 
up  to  this  undertaking.  I  must  now  treat,  as  far  as  I  have  obtained 
information,  of  the  infancy  and  boyhood  of  my  venerated  master, 
Alfred,  King  of  the  Anglo-Saxons,  as  briefly  and  as  fully  as  I 
possibly  can." 

It  is  not  long  until  he  has  once  more  left  the  subject  in 
hand,  to  which  he  thus  returns : 

"  With  the  view  of  returning  to  the  point  from  which  I  digressed, 
and  that  I  may  not  be  compelled  by  long  navigation  to  miss  the 
port  of  my  wished-for  repose,  I  will  hasten  to  give  some  account,  as 
far  as  my  knowledge  will  allow,  of  the  life  and  manners,  of  the  just 
conversation,  and  of  the  greater  part  of  the  exploits,  of  Alfred,  my 
Lord,  the  King  of  the  Anglo-Saxons."  l 

With  all  its  defects,  the  work  is  of  great  value.  It  throws 
much  light  on  a  dark  period  of  English  history,  a  period 
known  to  us  only  by  the  Saxon  Chronicle  and  a  "  few 
charters  preserved  in  much  later  chartularies,  of  a  more  or 
less  suspicious  nature."  Mr.  W.  H.  Stevenson  is  of  the 
opinion  that  "  probably  no  work  of  similar  extent  has  con 
tributed  so  much  to  English  history.  At  an  early  period 
it  was  transcribed  almost  entirely  into  the  continuous 
chronicles  of  Florence  of  Worcester  and  Simeon  of  Durham, 
and  by  their  means  it  descended  to  Royer  of  Howden  and 
the  St.  Alban's  school  of  writers,  whose  influence  upon 
mediaeval  history-writing  in  England  was  all-pervading."  2 
As  biography,  it  stands  in  strong  contrast  to  the  lives  of 
the  saints,  overburdened  as  they  are  with  stories  of  the 
miraculous.  It  shows  too,  especially  in  the  second  portion 
drawn  chiefly  from  Asser's  personal  knowledge,  a  nearer 
approach  to  modern  biography  than  anything  else  of  the 
period:  it  shows  an  appreciation  of  the  personal  anecdote 

1  Translation  of  Stevenson,  The  Church  Historians  of  England, 
vol.  ii.  part  ii. 
*  Asser,  p.  xi. 


14  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

that  is  promising,  and  a  willingness  to  consider  a  man  from 
the  human  point  of  view  that  is  wholesome.  One  feels  after 
reading  the  entire  narrative  that  one  has  been  in  the  pre 
sence  of  a  human  being.  It  is  worthy  of  notice,  also,  that 
the  work  is  not  purposely  or  mainly  a  panegyric.1 

In  the  Memorials  of  St.  Dunstan,  edited  by  William 
Stubbs,  there  are  preserved  six  lives  of  Dunstan,  by  different 
writers,  covering  the  period  from  about  1000  to  1464.  One 
of  the  lives  was  written  within  sixteen  years,  another 
within  twenty-three  years  of  Dunstan's  death.  The  two 
are  dedicated  to  his  successors,  personal  friends  who  knew 
him  either  in  the  capacity  of  fellow  scholars  or  of  disciples. 
Dunstan  was  an  Anglo-Saxon  bishop  of  the  highest  type, 
the  close  friend  and  the  chief  minister  of  Edgar,  "  around 
whose  name  the  last  glories  of  the  Anglo-Saxon  kingdoms 
circle."  It  is  not  because  the  Memorials  of  St.  Dunstan 
exhibit  any  marked  development  in  the  history  of  the 
biography  of  the  period  that  we  include  a  notice  of  them 
here.  It  is  rather  because,  "  for  the  history  of  England  in 
the  latter  half  of  the  tenth  century  we  have,  except  the 
very  meagre  notices  of  the  Anglo-Saxon  Chronicles,  no 
contemporary  materials,  unless  we  admit  the  lives  of  the 
Saints  of  the  Benedictine  revival.  Florence  of  Worcester, 
writing  within  fifty  years  of  the  Conquest,  could  find 
nothing  to  add  to  the  details  of  the  Chronicle  for  this  period, 
except  the  notices  of  Dunstan  drawn  directly  from  the 
biographies  of  the  saint.  The  light  which  they  shed  is  not 
great,  but  it  is  precious  in  proportion  to  its  scantiness."  2 

We   close   the   consideration  of   this   period   with   the 

1 "  The  purpose  of  the  biography  of  a  great  man  is  in  part  that 
of  inciting  others  to  follow  his  example.  But  in  the  present  work 
there  is  no  reason  to  consider  that  the  didactic  character  is  other 
than  incidental,  or  that  it  was  written  with  any  other  purpose  than 
that  of  celebrating  the  doings  and  recording  the  life  of  a  truly  great 
man." — Stevenson,  Asser,  cviii-cix. 

» William  Stubbs,  Memorials  of  St.  Dunstan  (Rolls  Series),  p.  ix. 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  15 

earliest  of  the  various  lives  of  the  Venerable  Bede,  a  work 
by  an  unknown  writer  produced  some  time  before  1104. 
The  narrative  adds  nothing  to  our  stock  of  information 
about  Bede;  it  is  but  a  repetition  and  amplification  in  high- 
flown  language1  of  Bede's  autobiographical  sketch  at  the 
close  of  the  Ecclesiastical  History.  It  seems  worth  while, 
however,  to  give  it  a  place  here,  as  in  a  way  marking  the 
end  of  this  period;  for,  while  it,  too,  is  panegyric,  it  shows 
an  entire  absence  of  the  miraculous.  The  writer  treats  of 
Bede  as  a  holy  man,  to  be  sure,  but  not  as  a  man  who 
wrought  miracles  at  every  turn.  Of  course,  narratives  of  the 
miraculous  in  the  lives  of  holy  men  continued  to  be  written 
long  after  this  date:  that  there  are  none  mentioned  in  the 
life  of  so  great  a  man  as  Bede,  written  thus  early,  is  signifi 
cant.2  An  epoch  all  but  closes  with  this  narrative. 

It  is  not  difficult  to  find  the  influences  which  inspired 
and  shaped  the  writings  of  these  earliest  biographers. 
Inasmuch  as  all  of  them  were  churchmen,  it  is  in  the  litera 
ture  of  the  Church  that  they  found  their  models.  The  works 
abound  in  references  to  the  Scriptures  and  the  Church 
Fathers.  Bede's  Life  of  St.  Cuthbert  reminds  one  of  the 
Gospel  narratives.  The  resemblance  of  the  prologue  of  the 
Life  of  St.  Patrick  by  Muirchu  Maccu  Mactheni  to  that  of 
St.  Luke's  Gospel  has  already  been  pointed  out.  Asser 
seems  to  have  gone  further  afield ;  W.  H.  Stevenson  shows 

1  This  may  be  given  as  an  example  of  the  style:  "  And  thus  this 
eminent  wise  bee  of  the  Church,  thirsting  for  that  sweetness  that  is 
grateful  to  God,  gathered  flowers  all  over  the  field  that  the  Lord 
had  blessed,  with  which,  making  honey,  as  it  were,  by  the  alchemy 
of  wisdom,  he  indited  compositions  that  are  sweeter  than  honey 
and  the  honeycomb." 

1 "  Alcuin  gives  an  account  of  a  miracle  wrought  by  Bede's 
relics.  De  Sanctis  Ebor.  vv.  1316-7.  With  this  exception  what 
Fuller  says  of  him  is  true  :  '  Saxon  Saints  who  had  not  the  tenth 
part  of  his  sanctity,  nor  hundredth  part  of  his  learning,  are  said  to 
have  wrought  miracles  ad  lectoris  nauseam  ;  not  one  single  miracle 
is  reported  to  have  been  done  by  Bede.' "— C.  Plummer,  Baedae 
Opera  Historica,  Tomus  i.  p.  Ixxix,  note. 


16  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

that  he  was  familiar  with  Einhard's  Life  of  Charles  the 
Great,1  and  suggests  that  he  may  also  have  taken  as  models 
Thegan's  Life  of  Ludzvig  the  Pious  and  a  Life  of  Ludwig  by 
an  unknown  author  described  as  the  "  Astronomer."  For 
the  most  part,  however,  the  work  of  the  Latin  period  began 
and  proceeded  without  appreciable  foreign  influence  other 
than  what  came  through  ecclesiastical  channels.  Plutarch's 
Lives  were  unknown  to  the  men  of  this  period  in  Britain : 
the  earliest  Latin  version  was  printed  only  in  1470;  the 
first  edition  of  the  original  text  was  not  published  until  1517. 
After  one  has  completed  an  examination  of  the  literature 
of  this  period,  one  is  first  of  all  impressed  with  the  scant 
attention  given  to  man  as  man;  such  sketches  as  are  given 
are  rather  in  the  way  of  outward  events;  the  inner  life  is 
passed  over  as  of  little  importance;  the  individual  is  sub 
ordinated  to  institutions.2  It  is  not  to  be  wondered  at  that 
so  little  is  said  of  the  man  and  that  so  much  is  recorded  of 
the  work  and  of  the  Church;  men  were  supposed  to  sink 
their  identity  into  that  of  the  institution.  The  Church  and 
its  work  were  the  important  matters;  man  was  only  an 
instrument;  his  life  was  not  to  be  held  dear.  It  is  worth 
while,  also,  to  bear  in  mind  the  circle  for  which  these 
memorials  were  written:  they  were  addressed  to  church 
men  to  whom  other  churchmen  were  daily  companions ;  to 
men  who  were  overcome  by  the  brightness  of  God's  glory 

1  ".  .  .  there  is  evidence  that  he  was  acquainted  with  the  greatest 
of  the  Frankish  biographies,  the  Life  of  Charles  the  Great  by  Em- 
hard.    In  c.  73  he  adapts  to  his  own  purpose  the  language  of  the 
preface  of  this  famous  work,  and  in  the  following  chapters  we  can 
perceive  some  indications  that  the  order  of  his  biographical  matter 
has  been  influenced  by  that  in  Einhard."   Mr.  Stevenson  goes  on  to 
say  that  Asser  is  much  more  accurate  in  historical  details  than  is 
Einhard.   He  calls  Einhard's  Life  "  a  medley  of  phrases  culled  from 
Suetonius  " ;   and  says  that  "  it  abounds  with  chronological  errors." 
— Asser,  Introduction,  sect.  51. 

2  Thus  Doctor  Reeves  laments  that  Adamnan  did  not  write  the 
history  of  his  Church  rather  than  the  Life  of  St.  Columba. — Life  of 
St.  Columba,  Preface,  p.  xx. 


BIOGRAPHICAL  IMPULSE  17 

and  the  light  from  the  New  Jerusalem.  The  recognition  of 
the  individual  which  was  later  to  make  English  biography 
a  thing  of  living  and  personal  literary  importance  came  far 
later. 

Writing  in  1853,  the  Rev.  Joseph  Stevenson,  in  regretting 
the  fact  that  no  contemporary  life  of  the  Venerable  Bede 
has  reached  us,  said :  "  This  deficiency  in  our  early  litera 
ture  did  not  arise  from  any  ignorance  on  the  part  of  his 
contemporaries  respecting  the  merits  of  Bede,  or  from  any 
unwillingness  to  acknowledge  them  with  due  respect  and 
reverence.  .  .  .  We  must  therefore  look  elsewhere  for  the 
reasons  for  this  apparent  neglect ;  nor  will  it  be  difficult  to 
find  them.  They  arise  from  the  character  of  the  historian's 
life,  which  passed  without  the  occurrence  of  any  of  those 
incidents  which  afford  the  chief  scope  for  the  exercise  of  the 
biographer's  occupation.  Had  a  life  of  Bede  been  written 
by  a  contemporary,  it  would  almost  necessarily  have  been 
scanty,  even  to  meagreness;  and  although  we  might  have 
possessed  definite  information  upon  many  points  which  are 
at  present  obscure,  yet  in  all  probability  we  should  not 
have  been  gainers  to  the  extent  which  at  first  might  be 
anticipated.  These  remarks,  let  it  be  remembered,  apply 
only  to  the  external  incidents  of  his  life.  Had  he  possessed 
a  biographer  enabled,  by  circumstances  and  kindred  feeling, 
to  record  his  conversation  and  the  tone  and  character  of 
his  mind,  to  furnish  us  with  the  picture  of  his  e very-day 
occupations,  as  he  was  at  study  in  the  cell,  or  at  prayer  in 
the  Church,  and  to  admit  us  to  the  communion  with  his 
spirit  as  his  days  passed  in  the  retirement  of  the  monastery, 
this  indeed  would  have  been  a  treasure." 

"  Yet,"  Mr.  Stevenson  continues,  "  we  scarcely  have  a 
right  to  expect  such  a  document.  Bede  was,  in  his  own  time, 
no  prominent  character.  .  .  .  However  much,  therefore, 
we  may  lament  the  absence  of  an  early  biography  of  Bede, 

B 


1 8  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

we  ought  not  to  be  surprised  at  this  omission.  There  was 
not  much  to  record  beyond  his  birth  and  his  death,  his 
prayers  and  his  labours.  He  did  not,  like  St.  Guthlac,  retire 
into  the  wilderness,  and  wage  war  with  the  evil  spirits  by 
which  it  was  haunted.  He  did  not,  like  St.  Cuthbert,  lay 
aside  the  bishop's  robe  for  the  hermit's  cowl,  and  exchange 
the  splendour  of  a  court  for  the  solitude  of  a  rocky  island. 
He  did  not,  like  St.  Columbanus,  carry  the  reputation  of 
his  native  church  into  foreign  countries,  and  establish 
monasteries  which  should  vie  with  each  other  in  recording 
the  history  of  their  founder.  He  did  not,  like  St.  Wilfrid  of 
York,  plead  his  cause  before  kings  and  synods,  and  strive, 
through  all  opposition,  to  raise  the  ecclesiastical  power 
above  the  secular  authority.  He  did  not,  like  St.  Wilbrord 
and  St.  Willibald,  preach  Christianity  among  the  heathen, 
and  leave  home  and  kindred  for  the  extension  of  the  ever 
lasting  gospel.  Had  he  done  any  of  these  things  he  would, 
most  probably,  have  found  a  biographer;  but  his  life  pre 
sented  no  such  salient  points,  and  it  was  unrecorded."  * 

We  have  to  see  in  the  following  chapters  how  long  the 
notion  prevailed  that  unless  a  man  had  taken  part  in  great 
events  his  life  was  not  considered  worthy  of  detailed  record. 
In  other  words,  we  must  follow  the  course  of  biography 
until  it  frees  itself  from  the  entanglements  of  history.  We 
must  see  how  biography  changed  from  a  mere  curriculum 
vitae  to  "  the  faithful  portrait  of  a  soul  in  its  adventures 
through  life."  It  was  only  as  biography  changed  from 
mere  narrative  to  such  portraiture  that  it  became  truly 
literature. 

1  The  Church  Historians  of  England,  vol.  i.  part  ii.  Preface,  pp.  i-ii. 


TRANSITION  AND  PREPARATION      19 


CHAPTER  II 

THE  PERIOD  OF  TRANSITION  AND  PREPARATION  (lo66-I5OO) 

THE  years  lying  between  1066  and  1500  constitute  a  tran 
sition  period  as  well  in  the  development  of  the  English 
language  and  nation,  and  of  history,  as  in  that  of  English 
biography.  The  transition  period  itself  divides  into  two: 
the  one  extending  from  1066  to  about  1200;  the  second 
continuing  from  1200  to  about  1500.  These  dates  are,  of 
course,  not  arbitrary;  they  but  represent,  in  a  way,  limits 
which  overlap  and  merge  into  one  another  almost  imper 
ceptibly.  During  the  first  of  these  divisions,  the  Normans 
slowly  reduced  the  Saxon  population  to  complete  sub 
mission,  while  the  genius  of  the  Anglo-Saxon  language  was 
permeating  the  language  of  the  Norman  conquerors  and 
slowly  shaping  itself  to  be  the  vehicle  of  thought-expression 
of  the  greater  Britain  of  the  future.  The  second  division 
witnessed  the  ascendency  of  the  English  tongue,  the  libera- 
tionof  history  from  the  thraldom  of  the  credulous  imagination 
of  the  tales  of  miracle  and  wonder,  and  the  rise  of  con 
ditions  which  made  possible  a  kind  of  biography  distinctly 
in  advance  of  anything  which  had  previously  been  known  in 
the  British  Isles.  So  far  as  they  contribute  directly  to  the 
purpose  of  this  volume,  the  four  centuries  may  be  quickly 
summarised. 

The  period  from  1066  to  1200  is  rather  distinctly  marked. 
The  purely  Anglo-Saxon  influence  which  preceded  it  rapidly 
declined,  ending  with  the  close  of  the  Saxon  Chronicle  in 
1 154.  Beginning  with  the  date  of  the  Norman  Conquest  and 
ending  in  1199  with  the  reign  of  Richard  I.,  the  literature 


20  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

of  the  country  "  may  be  considered  purely  historical  in 
comparison  with  any  other  period  included  in  the  middle 
ages.  Saints'  lives,  legends,  and  miracles  .  .  .  now  become 
comparatively  rare;  and  if  they  do  not  disappear  altogether 
before  the  increasing  historical  spirit  of  the  age,  they  cease 
to  be  the  exclusive  sources  of  information  for  the  historical 
inquirer."  l  It  was  at  this  time  that  William  of  Malmesbury 
came  forward  to  put  new  life  into  the  writing  of  history, 
"  the  first  English  writer  after  the  time  of  Bede  who 
attempted  successfully  to  raise  history  above  the  dry  and 
undigested  details  of  a  chronicle."  2  Of  William  of  Malmes 
bury,  a  modern  English  historian  asserts  that  "  we  may 
fairly  claim  for  him  the  credit  of  being  the  first  writer  after 
Bede  who  attempted  to  give  to  his  details  of  dates  and 
events  such  a  systematic  connexion,  in  the  way  of  cause 
and  consequence,  as  entitles  them  to  the  name  of  history. 
.  .  .  He  prides  himself,  and  with  some  reason,  on  his  skill 
in  the  delineation  of  character  "  8  His  Gesta  Pontificorum 
Anglorum  has  been  pronounced  "  the  foundation  of  the 
early  ecclesiastical  history  of  England  on  which  all  writers 
have  chiefly  relied."  4  These  statements  must  be  taken 
with  due  regard  to  the  age  of  which  they  are  spoken.  They 
do  not  mean  that  history,  as  we  understand  it  to-day,  sprang 
full-fledged  into  being  at  this  time;  they  mean  simply  that 
the  line  of  demarcation  is  here  drawn;  that  the  dawn  of 
better  things  is  at  hand.  Such  improvement  as  is  thus 
indicated  extends,  of  course,  to  the  more  strictly  biographic 
narratives  of  this  time. 

During  this  interval,  the  stream  of  biographical  writing 

1  Hardy,  Descriptive  Catalogue,  vol.  ii.  p.  ix. 

8  Wright,  Biographica  Britannica  Liter  aria,  vol.  ii.  p.  137. 

3  Stubbs,    Willelmi   Malmesbiriensis   Monachi   de   Gestis   Regum 
Anglorum  (Rolls  Series),  vol.  i.  p.  x. 

4  N.  E.  S.  A.  Hamilton,  Willelmi  Malmesbiriensis  de  Gestis  Ponti- 
ficum  Anglorum  (Rolls  Series),  pp.  ix-x. 


TRANSITION  AND  PREPARATION      21 

ran  on  in  somewhat  the  same  fashion  as  before  1066;  that 
is,  the  language  continued  to  be  Latin,  and  the  writers, 
churchmen;  the  authors  recorded  notices  only  of  those 
prominent  in  Church  or  State;  and,  while  professedly  treat 
ing  of  individuals,  gave  not  so  much  a  personal  account  as 
a  record  of  outward  events.  By  those  who  are  considering 
the  development  of  biography,  the  great  mass  of  such  narra 
tives  as  were  produced  during  this  first  half  of  the  transition 
period  may  be  passed  over  unnoticed.  Here,  again,  these 
writings  are  of  value  chiefly  to  the  historian.  As  before,  we 
need  select  only  such  as  seem  to  stand  out  from  the  mass  as 
marking  advance. 

Eadmer  in  his  Life  of  Anselm,  completed  by  1140,  enters 
somewhat  carefully  into  the  details  of  Anselm's  boyhood 
and  shows  an  appreciation  of  the  human  qualities  of  the 
subject  of  his  memoir.  "  The  chroniclers  of  those  days," 
remarks  R.  W.  Church,  "  were  not  in  the  habit  of  going 
back  to  a  man's  first  days ;  they  were  satisfied  with  taking 
him  when  he  began  to  make  himself  known  and  felt  in  the 
world.  It  is  a  point  of  more  than  ordinary  interest  as  regards 
Anselm,  that  we  have  some  authentic  information  about 
the  times  when  no  one  cared  about  him.  He  had  the  fortune 
to  have  a  friend  who  was  much  with  him  in  his  later  life 
.  .  .  who,  more  than  most  of  his  contemporaries  among 
literary  monks,  was  alive  to  points  of  character.  Eadmer 
.  .  .  saw  something  else  worth  recording  in  his  great  arch 
bishop  besides  the  public  passages  of  his  life  and  his 
supposed  miracles.  He  observed  and  recorded  what  Anselm 
was  as  a  man."  1  In  an  age  when  most  writers  thought 
"  the  getting  possession  of  the  tooth  of  a  saint  of  more 
importance  than  such  events  "  it  is  hopeful  to  find  a  writer 
like  Eadmer. 

William  of  Malmesbury's  chief  contributions  to  biography 
1  Saint  Anselm,  pp.  7-8. 


22  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

are  his  Life  of  St.  Aldhelm,  written  before  1125,  and  his 
Life  of  St.  Wulstan  (Wulfstari),  Bishop  of  Worcester,  dating 
from  about  I I4O.1  The  latter  is  based  on  an  earlier  but  no 
longer  existent  Life  by  Coleman,  a  monk  of  Worcester  and 
Prior  of  Westbury.  The  career  of  Thomas  Becket,  Arch 
bishop  of  Canterbury,  attracted  the  attention  of  many  of 
his  own  and  the  following  generation.  Worthy  of  mention 
here  is  the  Life  by  Becket's  clerk,  William  Fitz-Stephen; 
that  by  John  of  Salisbury,  with  its  supplement  by  Alan  of 
Tewkesbury;  and  the  long,  rambling  Life  by  Herbert  of 
Bosham.  "  Herbert  is,  indeed,  one  of  the  most  provoking 
of  authors.  Instead  of  being  content  to  tell  an  intelligible 
story,  he  continually  digresses  into  long  discourses  which 
are  quite  beside  the  subject,  and  in  themselves  are  mere 
nothingness;  and  when  he  has  tried  the  reader's  patience 
with  tedious  superfluities  of  this  kind,  he  often  spends  a 
further  space  in  vindicating  his  diffuseness,  and  in  telling 
us  that  we  ought  to  be  thankful  for  it."  z  Becket  was 
murdered  in  1170.  Within  sixteen  years  after  his  death  the 
lives  here  mentioned  had  been  written,  that  by  Herbert 
being  most  certainly  completed  by  1186. 

The  most  pretentious  of  such  narratives,  however,  is 
what  is  known  as  the  Magna  Fitay  the  Great  Life,  of  Hugh, 
Bishop  of  Lincoln,  the  work  of  Adam,  Abbot  of  Eynsham, 
near  Oxford,  written  between  1212  and  1220.  In  the  Rolls 
Series  edition  3  the  Magna  Vita  occupies  378  large  pages. 
Adam  was  a  close  personal  friend  of  Hugh,  knowing  him  so 
well,  in  fact,  that  Mr.  Dimock  says  "  we  may  look  upon 

1  The  Life  of  St.  Aldhelm'may  be  found  in  Gale's  Scriptores  Rerum 
Anglicarum,  vol.  iii.;  in  Wharton's  Anglia  Sacra,  vol.  ii.;  and  in 
Hamilton's  Gesta  Pontificum  Anglorum  (Rolls  Series).  The  Wulstan 
may  be  found  in  Anglia  Sacra,  vol.  ii.  pp.  241-70. 

•  James  Craigie  Robertson,  Materials  for  the  History  of  Thomas 
Becket  (Rolls  Series),  vol.  iii.  pp.  xxiii-iv. 

*  Magna    Vita   St.   Hugonis   Episcopi  Lincolniensis,    edited    by 
James  F.  Dimock. 


TRANSITION  AND  PREPARATION      23 

much  of  what  this  volume  [the  Magna  Vita]  contains,  it 
seems  strongly  to  me,  almost  as  if  it  had  been  penned  by 
Hugh's  own  hand."  The  Rev.  George  G.  Perry,  who,  in  his 
St.  Hugh  of  Lincoln,  made  thorough  use  of  the  work  of 
Adam,  speaks  of  "  the  rich,  full,  and  varied  details  of  the 
Magna  Vita  "/  and  yet,  he  continues,  "  it  can  .  .  .  hardly 
be  said  that  the  writer  .  .  .  has  left  us,  in  the  strict  sense, 
a  life  of  Hugh.  The  outlines  of  his  earlier  life  are  preserved, 
and  the  events  of  the  few  last  years  are  pretty  fully  given, 
but  for  the  ten  or  twelve  years  which  followed  after  his 
elevation  to  the  episcopate  very  little  is  supplied."  It  is 
worthy  of  note  that  the  writer  of  the  Magna  Vita  empha 
sises  the  man  rather  than  the  work  of  the  man.  Adam 
"  treats  the  subject  of  his  memoir  altogether  from  the  point 
of  view  of  the  saint,  and  scarce  gives  us  any  information  as 
to  his  connexion  with  the  public  events  of  his  day.  .  .  . 
Hugh  was  not  a  statesman.  He  shrank  altogether  from 
secular  affairs,  and  loved  better  to  be  cleaning  the  scuttles 
at  Witham,  than  to  be  taking  his  place  in  the  Curia  Regis. 
There  is,  therefore,  much  more  to  say  of  his  inner  life  than 
of  his  outer."  *  As  a  matter  of  fact,  however,  there  could 
be  no  such  thing  as  a  "Life,"  in  the  strict  sense  of  the  word, 
at  this  early  date,  nor  for  many  centuries. 

In  common  with  everything  else  of  the  kind  that  had 
been  written  up  until  1200,  the  Magna  Vita  is  panegyric. 
The  author  exhibits  a  too  eager  desire  to  make  everything 

1  Perry,  St.  Hugh  of  Lincoln,  p.  253.  Cf.  also  what  Herbert 
Thurston,  S.J.,  says  :  "  Of  all  our  mediaeval  saints,  there  is  not 
one  in  whom  the  man,  as  distinct  from  the  bishop  or  the  ruler,  is  so 
intimately  known  to  us.  Even  St.  Thomas  of  Canterbury,  or  St. 
Anselm,  are  spectral  and  shadowy  figures  in  comparison.  Hugh, 
thanks  to  the  memoirs  of  his  Benedictine  chaplain,  stands  before  us 
in  flesh  and  blood.  Despite  its  rather  involved  Latin,  and  its  dis 
cursive  style,  the  Life  of  the  Saint  known  as  the  Magna  Vita  has 
left  us  a  portrait  superior  for  truth  and  vividness  even  to  the  sketch 
of  his  contemporary,  Abbot  Samson,  in  the  Chronicle  of  Jocelin  de 
Brakelond. — The  Life  of  St.  Hugh  of  Lincoln,  p.  vi. 


24  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

redound  to  the  "  honour  "  of  St.  Hugh.  "  He  has  no  doubt," 
remarks  Mr.  Perry,  "  drawn  his  hero  as  somewhat  too 
perfect,  but  this  we  may  readily  excuse.  Contrasted  with 
most  other  writers  of  the  Lives  of  Saints,  he  stands  well. 
He  exhibits  far  more  traces  of  humanity  than  are  to  be 
found  in  most  of  them."  1  Indeed,  we  may  say  that  the 
diminution  in  the  record  of  the  miraculous  is  remarkable. 
Hugh  himself  was  no  lover  of  the  miraculous,  looking  upon 
the  craving  after  miracles  as  evidence  of  want  of  faith.  This 
attitude  no  doubt  influenced  his  biographer  strongly;  at 
any  rate,  in  the  long  narrative  of  the  Magna  Vita  there  are 
only  nine  references  to  miraculous  events.  The  work  stands, 
therefore,  in  line  with  the  anonymous  Life  of  Bede  as  illus 
trative  of  the  change  of  temper  in  the  minds  of  men  towards 
the  working  of  Providence  in  human  affairs.  From  this 
time  forth — although  allowing  the  error  to  revive  at  times 
in  strange  ways — men  were  steadily  freeing  themselves  of 
the  shackles  of  superstition;  were  slowly  groping  towards 
the  method  of  scientific  investigation,  calm  reason,  and 
accurate  observation  and  recording.  "  And  as  the  obscure 
mists  of  the  legendary  period  disappear,  and  the  steady 
light  of  facts  dawns  upon  the  grateful  reader,  so  in  the 
artless,  unsystematic,  and  sometimes  ill-arranged  and  con 
fused  narratives  and  chronicles  of  the  eleventh  and  the 
following  century  we  seem  to  trace  an  era  of  intellectual 
progress  when  the  mind  of  Europe  had  not  yet  been  trained 
in  the  schools,  and  the  great  questions  which  agitated  man 
kind  had  not  yet  been  submitted  to  logical  analysis  and 
arrangement.  The  faculty  of  wonder  and  its  attendant 
habit  of  exaggeration,  natural  to  an  early  stage  in  the 
national  life  and  its  conversion  from  barbarism  to  Chris- 

1  "  The  great  life  of  St.  Hugh  is  one  of  the  most  bright  and  fresh 
of  all  the  bright  saint-lives  of  the  Middle  Ages." — William  Holden 
Hutton,  The  English  Saints  (Bampton  Lectures,  1903),  p.  213. 


TRANSITION  AND  PREPARATION      25 

tianity,  gave  way  before  the  steadier  observance  of  facts 
forced  upon  men  by  their  altered  position,  by  their  new 
relations  to  the  Continent,  by  the  active  duties  and  out 
door  life  imposed  upon  them,  by  the  exigencies  and  demands 
of  feudalism.  But  observation  rose  for  the  present  to  no 
higher  grade  than  to  a  careful  collection  of  historical  facts 
and  documents,  and  was  itself  to  give  place,  in  its  turn, 
to  the  new  habits  of  generalisation  and  deduction  which 
observation  itself  had  helped  to  produce."  l 

The  second  half  of  this  period  of  transition — the  three 
hundred  years  lying  between  1200  and  1500— constitutes 
a  time  of  almost  entire  suspense  in  the  production  of  bio 
graphical  narrative.  These  were  the  centuries  of  prepara 
tion  for  biography  in  the  English  language.  They  were 
centuries  fraught  with  great  consequences.  The  English 
language  was  slowly  shaping  itself  for  use,  superseding  the 
Norman  French  tongue  in  the  law  courts  in  1362.  From 
1381  onwards,  translations  of  the  Bible  in  English  were 
exerting  a  deep  influence  upon  the  establishing  of  the  lan 
guage,  and  upon  modes  of  thought  and  manner  of  writing. 
Chaucer,  the  one  brilliant  literary  light  of  the  period,  arose, 
and  taking  the  language  of  his  day,  showed  how  effective  it 
could  be  as  an  instrument  of  poetical  narration.  Men  were 
gaining  larger  conceptions  of  life  and  liberty,  winning  for 
themselves  between  1215  and  1225  rights  typified  by  the 
Magna  Charta.  Britain  was  ceasing  to  be  insular;  the  out 
look  was  no  longer  merely  from  the  cloister:  the  Crusades 
had  brought  in  new  influences;  and,  most  of  all,  the  dis 
covery  of  America  in  1492  opened  wide  the  gates  of  the 
world.  The  wars  by  means  of  which  the  nation  was  shaping 
itself,  as  well  as  the  great  discoveries  of  new  regions,  made 
the  period  one  of  interest  in  events  rather  than  in  men,  and 
biography  as  a  business  there  could  not  be,  until  there  came 
1  Hardy,  Descriptive  Catalogue,  vol.  ii.  pp.  ix-x. 


26  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

an  overwhelming  interest  in  men.    Most  of  the  literature 
of  the  period  was  objective  rather  than  subjective. 

One  work  dating  from  the  last  portion  of  the  fifteenth 
century  attracts  attention  because  of  the  extensive  use  of 
the  personal  anecdote.  The  author,  John  Blakman  (Blake- 
man,  or  Blackman),  may  well  be  given  the  credit  of  being 
the  first  to  appreciate  the  value  of  the  personal  anecdote. 
We  know  little  more  of  Blakman  (fl.  1436-48)  than  that  he 
was  admitted  a  fellow  of  Merton  College,  Oxford,  in  1436, 
and  that  his  position  as  fellow  of  Eton  brought  him  into 
close  personal  relations  with  Henry  VI.  From  his  own 
knowledge,  as  well  as  from  information  gained  through 
those  in  attendance  upon  the  sovereign,  Blakman  wrote 
a  brief  collection  of  anecdotes  illustrative  of  the  virtues  of 
Henry  VI.1  Under  such  headings  as  Devota  habitudo  ejus 
in  ecclesia,  Pudicitia  ejus,  Humilitas  regis,  and  Pietas  et 
patientia  ejus,  Blakman  proceeds  to  develop  what  is  in 
truth  a  catalogue  of  virtues  amounting  to  a  public  testi 
monial  or  recommendation.  It  is  indeed  claimed  that  the 
work  was  composed  to  advance  Henry  VII.'s  project  of 
canonising  Henry  VI.  We  know  that  Henry  VII.  petitioned 
this  canonisation  of  three  popes  in  succession,  Innocent 
VIII.  (1484-92);  Alexander  VI.  (1492-1503);  and  Julius 
II.  (1508-13).  "  Blakman's  apotheosis  was  doubtless 
intended  to  prepare  the  public  mind  for  this  step."  2  One 
of  the  best  of  Blakman's  anecdotes  is  that  which  relates 
how  Henry,  in  company  with  a  number  of  his  nobles  and 
attendants,  was  confronted  at  Cripplegate  with  the  muti 
lated  body  of  a  traitor  set  upon  a  stake.  When  the  King 

1  Collectarium  M ansuetudinum  et  Bonorum  Morum  Regis  Henrici 
VI.,  ex  collectione  Magistri  Joannis  Blakman  bacchalaurei  theologiae, 
et  post  Cartusiae  monachi  Londini.  First  printed  in  Thomas  Hearne's 
Duo  Return  Anglicarum,  Oxford,  1732,  pp.  285-307. 

a  I.  S.  Leadam,  Dictionary  of  National  Biography,  article  "  John 
Blakman." 


TRANSITION  AND  PREPARATION      27 

learned  whose  body  it  was,  and  why  it  was  exposed  there, 
he  immediately  ordered  that  it  be  taken  away,  with  the 
remark,  "  I  am  unwilling  that  any  Christian  should  be  so 
cruelly  treated  because  of  me."  But  it  is  well  to  have  the 
story  in  Blakman's  own  words :  "  Primo,  cum  semel 
descenderet  a  villa  sancti  Albani  Londinias  per  Crepylgate, 
videns  supra  portam  ibi  quartarium  hominis  positum  super 
sudem  sublimen,  quaesivit,  quid  hoc  esset  ?  Et  respondent- 
ibus  sibi  dominis  suis,  quod  erat  IIII.  pars  cujusdam  pro- 
ditoris  sui,  qui  falsus  fuerat  regiae  majestati,  ait  rex, 
Auferatur.  Nolo  enim  aliquem  Christianum  tarn  cTudeliter 
pro  me  tractari,  &  continuo  sublatum  est  quartarium.  Qui 
hoc  vidit,  testimonium  dicit."  The  first  ten  centuries  in  the 
course  of  English  biography  produced  only  too  few  with 
such  a  sense  as  that  of  Blakman's  for  the  little  but  reveal 
ing  incidents  of  character. 

None  of  the  narratives  mentioned  in  either  this  chapter 
or  in  the  one  preceding  could  exert  much  influence  on  the 
actual  development  of  biography,  for  the  simple  reason 
that  they  were  not  widely  circulated.  They  existed  only  in 
the  form  of  manuscripts  slowly  and  laboriously  copied  by 
hand,  and  circulated  among  a  limited  number,  all  of  whom 
belonged  to  the  same  class  as  did  the  producers  of  the  works. 
None  of  them  were  printed  until  long  after  they  were  first 
composed.  The  Magna  Vita  of  St.  Hugh  was  not  printed 
in  full  until  1864;  its  very  length  prevented  it  from  being 
duplicated  to  any  extent  in  its  own  day.  This  was  true  of 
all  such  narratives  until  the  invention  of  printing. 

About  1476,  William  Caxton  set  up  the  first  English 
printing  press  in  a  spot  close  to  Westminster  Abbey  and 
thus  began  the  work  which  was  ultimately  to  make  all 
kinds  of  English  writing  the  common  heritage  of  the  people. 
Before  the  end  of  the  fifteenth  century  the  earliest  paper- 
mill  in  England  was  established  at  Stevenage,  in  Hertford- 


28  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

shire,  affording  the  means  for  a  cheap  multiplication  of 
books.  Edward  IV.  and  his  brothers  encouraged  the  art 
of  printing  and  helped  to  make  it  possible  for  the  literature 
of  the  Renaissance  and  the  thoughts  of  the  rising  Reforma 
tion  to  mould  the  minds  and  hearts  of  the  nation  to  a  new 
appreciation  of  human  life  and  of  human  individuality. 

Nothing  bears  witness  to  the  carelessness  of  the  men  of 
the  period  in  regard  to  life  records  more  than  the  con 
spicuous  absence  of  materials  for  a  biography  of  Geoffrey 
Chaucer.  Chaucer  was  not  only  a  poet;  he  was  also  a 
courtier,  closely  connected  with  the  political  life  of  his  time. 
Beyond  the  merest  records  of  outward  events,  however,  and 
most  of  these  collected  in  modern  times,  we  have  nothing 
from  which  to  attempt  to  reconstruct  his  life.  "  The  study 
of  Chaucer's  life  may  be  divided  into  two  periods,  that  of 
the  legend,  and  that  of  the  appeal  to  fact.  The  first  period 
extends  from  Leland  to  Nicolas,  the  second  from  Nicolas  to 
the  Life-Records  gathered  by  the  Chaucer  Society,  and 
subsequently.  .  .  .  The  work  of  killing  the  legend  has, 
however,  been  difficult."  1 

Thus  it  is  that  the  four  centuries  clearly  constitute  a 
period  of  transition  and  preparation.  The  succeeding 
period  will  be  much  influenced  by  its  predecessor;  the  new 
will  be  a  period  of  gradual  loosening  of  the  old  habits  of 
thought  and  methods  of  writing,  and  a  slow  breaking  away 
from  the  influence  of  the  Latin  language.  When  next  we 
meet  with  biography  written  for  the  first  time  in  the 
national  language,  we  shall  find  that  it  is  almost  a  beginning 
de  novo. 

1  Eleanor  Prescott  Hammond,  Chaucer:  A  Bibliographical  Manual, 
p.  I.  See  also  Thomas  R.  Lounsbury,  Studies  in  Chaucer,  passim. 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  29 


CHAPTER  III 

ENGLISH    VERSE    LIVES 

CONTEMPORANEOUSLY  with  the  prose  lives  of  saints  there  was 
produced  a  vast  number  of  such  lives  in  verse.  These  con 
stitute  an  interesting  stage  in  the  progress  of  hagiology;  in 
fact,  apart  from  accounts  of  the  lives  and  miracles  of  saints, 
very  few  biographical  narratives  in  verse,  of  any  sort,  exist, 
whether  in  Latin  or  English.  We  have  already  remarked 
Bede's  reference  to  his  Life  of  St.  Cuthbtrt,  written  in  Latin 
verse,  and  have  observed  that  a  number  of  other  such 
Latin  verse  lives  are  extant.  All  that  has  been  said  in 
connexion  with  the  prose  lives  in  regard  to  the  questions 
of  authorship  and  authenticity  applies  with  equal  force  to 
these  kindred  verse  narratives.  The  work  of  the  Early 
English  Text  Society  has  done  much  to  render  accessible 
the  most  important  of  these  lives;  it  remains  true,  how 
ever,  that  only  a  beginning  has  been  made — the  work  of 
publishing  and  of  reducing  to  order  the  whole  mass  is  yet 
before  English  scholars.1  From  such  a  quantity  of  anony 
mous  writing — for  usually  the  patient  monks  who  com 
posed,  re-composed,  copied,  and  re-copied  these  lives 

*A  recent  (1915)  statement  of  the  Early  English  Text  Society 
calls  attention  to  this  fact:  "  The  subscribers  to  the  Original  series 
must  be  prepared  for  the  issue  of  the  whole  of  the  Early  English 
Lives  of  the  Saints  sooner  or  later.  The  standard  collection  of 
saints'  lives  in  the  Corpus  and  Ashmole  MSS.,  the  Harleian  MS. 
2277,  etc.,  will  repeat  the  Laud  set,  our  No.  87,  with  additions  and 
in  right  order.  The  foundation  MS.  Laud  108  had  to  be  printed 
first  to  prevent  quite  unwieldy  collations.  The  supplementary 
lives  from  the  Vernon  and  other  MSS.  will  form  one  or  two  separate 
volumes." 


30  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

laboured,  died,  and  "  gave  no  sign  "  of  their  own  indivi 
duality — the  names  of  only  a  few  authors  emerge  to  satisfy 
our  curiosity,  and  of  these,  little  is  known.  They  flit  across 
the  pages  of  history  like  shadows  out  of  the  past. 

Through  the  medium  of  Aelfric  (fl.  1 006)  the  habit  of 
writing  verse  lives  was  carried  over  into  Old  English.  His 
Lives  of  Saints,  a  set  of  sermons  on  Saints'  Days  formerly 
observed  by  the  English  Church,  are  written  in  a  loose  sort 
of  alliterative  verse,  so  loose  that  Professor  Skeat  agrees 
that  "  those  who  prefer  to  consider  the  text  as  being  all 
equally  in  prose  can  do  so  by  disregarding  the  division 
into  lines,"  although  he  affirms  that  "  in  most  of  the 
narratives  some  attempt  at  embellishment  is  very 
evident."  1 

Robert  of  Gloucester  (Jl.  1260-1300),  whose  Chronicle 
has  gained  for  him  a  place  in  English  literature,  has  been 
half-heartedly  credited  with  the  authorship  of  a  number 
of  verse  lives  in  Early  English.  Among  others  which  have 
been  assigned  to  him  are  those  of  St.  Alban,  St.  Augustine, 
St.  Birin,  and  St.  Aldhelm.  These  are  written  in  the  same 
kind  of  rhyming  verse  as  the  Chronicle,  and  while  we  may 
agree  that  arbitrarily  to  assign  the  authorship  of  them  to 
him  on  this  account  alone  would  be  practically  to  affirm 
that  at  the  end  of  the  thirteenth  century  only  Robert  of 
Gloucester  could  write  such  verse,  we  need  not  for  this 
reason  deprive  him  of  the  honour  of  authorship  of  what, 
after  all,  he  may  have  written.2  It  is  well  to  remember  in 
addition,  that  the  form  of  Robert  of  Gloucester's  work,  to 
which  Dr.  W.  Aldis  Wright  refers  as  "  doggerel  verse  in 

1  See  E.E.T.S.  No.  76,  Original  Series  (1881). 

*  "...  a  bulky  collection  of  saints'  lives,  immensely  popular, 
constantly  rehandled,  altered,  and  added  to — the  work,  doubtless, 
in  all  their  forms  put  together  of  a  very  large  number  of  writers,  but 
in  some  of  the  earliest  cases  at  least  very  probably,  if  not  almost 
certainly,  Robert's." — Saintsbury,  History  of  English  Prosody,  vol.  i. 
pp.  67-8. 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  31 

ballad  metre,"  marks  a  distinct  advance  in  the  develop 
ment  of  English  metre.1 

The  two  centuries  following  Robert  of  Gloucester  supply 
four  names  worthy  of  mention.  The  voluminous  John 
Lydgate  (i37O?-!45i  ?),  who  wrought  in  many  fields,  and 
who  has  been  credited  with  introducing  the  legendary  epic 
into  English  literature,  produced  a  number  of  saints'  lives 
in  verse.  Of  these,  the  shorter  and  more  compact  Saint 
Margaret  is  superior  to  the  long,  poorly  told  St.  Edmund 
and  Fremund.  Osbern  Bokenham,  or  Bokenam  (1393- 
1447  ?)  wrote  in  verse  the  lives  of  a  number  of  female  saints 
and  thus  earned  for  himself  an  almost  unique  place  in  Early 
English  literature.2  John  Capgrave  (1393-1464),  Prior  of 
the  Austin  Friary  at  Lynn,  Norfolk,  wrote  the  Life  of  St. 
Katharine  of  Alexandria  at  great  length;  the  five  books 
into  which  it  is  divided  comprise  more  than  eight  thousand 
lines.  Henry  Bradshaw  (d.  1513),  "  sometyme  monke  in 
Chester,"  translated  "  out  of  latine  in  English  rude  and 
vyle  "  a  legend,  which,  "  amended  with  many  an  ornate 
style,"  became  known  as  the  Life  of  St.  Werburge  of  Chester. 
After  Bradshaw  there  is  little  to  record.  We  are,  with  him, 
drawing  near  to  the  age  of  Shakespeare.  Other  interests  are 
beginning  to  absorb  the  attention  of  men.  The  verse  lives  of 
saints  are  nearing  the  time  of  eclipse. 

From  such  an  array,  it  is  difficult  to  select  examples. 
Quotation  scarcely  does  justice  to  the  longer  lives,  such  as 
Lydgate's  Margaret  and  Edmund  and  Fremund,  or  Cap- 

1  See  Wright,  The  Metrical  Chronicle  of  Robert  of  Gloucester  (Rolls 
Series),  vol.  i.  p.  xxxix:  and  Saintsbury,  History  of  English  Prosody, 
vol.  i.  pp.  67-9. 

1 "  Twice  in  the  earlier  English  (and  no  other)  literature  was  an 
attempt  made  to  put  together  the  lives  of  female  saints  :  by  Boken 
ham  in  verse,  and  in  the  present  collection  [The  Lives  of  Women 
Saints  of  our  Countrie  of  England,  in  prose] — a  peculiar  instance  of 
the  veneration  which  the  weaker  part  of  mankind,  especially  its 
godlike  members,  enjoys  in  this  island." — E.E.T.S.  No.  86,  Original 
Series. 


32  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

grave's  St.  Katharine.  These  should  be  read  at  length  by 
those  who  wish  to  gain  a  notion  of  their  manner  and  quality. 
Most  of  the  verse  lives,  however,  are  comparatively  brief, 
and  written  in  a  style  so  manifestly  similar  that  the  reading 
of  one  or  two  will  give  a  fair  notion  of  the  rest.  We  may, 
then,  choose  two  which  commemorate  great  names  in  early 
British  church  annals — that  of  Saint  Cuthbert,  the  rigid 
ascetic,  yet  tender-hearted  ecclesiastic  of  the  North;  and 
that  of  Saint  Alban,  commonly  known  as  the  proto-martyr 
of  Britain. 

The  Life  of  St.  Cuthbert  from  which  these  excerpts  are 
taken  is  anonymous.1  The  opening  lines  plunge  at  once 
into  the  story  of  the  miraculous  announcement  to  Cuthbert 
that  he  was  destined  to  become  a  great  man  in  the  Church : 

"  Seint  Cuthbert  was  bore:   here  in  ingelond* 
God  dide  for  him  fair  meracle:   as  36  schul  understand* 
Whil  he  was  a  3ong  child :   in  his  ei3ten)>e  3  ere* 
Wij?  childre  he  pleide  at  J?e  bal :  f»at  his  f elawis  were* 
J>ere  cam  forj?  a  lite  child :   him  J>ou3te  J?re  3er  old* 
A  swete  creatur  and  a  fair:   it  was  mylde  and  bold*  " 

Cuthbert  took  no  notice  of  the  warning  to  "  thinke  not  on 
sich  idil  games,"  and 

"  J?o  J?is  songe  child  seigh:  pat  he  his  reed  for  sok* 
A  doun  he  fel  to  J?e  ground :   and  gret  dol  to  him  tok* 
It  began  to  wepe  sore :  and  his  handis  to  wringe* 
}?ese  childre  hadden  dol  of  him:   &  bi  lesten  here  pleienge*  " 

Cuthbert  now  began  to  perceive  that  the  "  swete  fair 
creature  "  was  an  angel,  and  from  it  he  received  the  assur 
ance  that  he  was  to  be  made  "  an  hed  of  holi  churche." 
Turning  at  once  from  his  game-playing,  Cuthbert  entered 
upon  a  life  of  serious  study  and  devotion.  In  a  most 
succinct  manner,  the  anonymous  writer  follows  the  course  of 

1  The  version  given  is  that  of  MS.  Tanner  17  (Bodleian),  ff.  42^43, 
dating  from  the  fifteenth  century.  It  contains  108  lines  in  all. 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  33 

Cuthbert's  life  to  his  elevation  to  the  bishopric  of  Durham , 
from  which  point  the  narrative  hurries  to  its  close : 

"  J>o  oure  lordis  wille  was:    per  after  it  gan  falle* 
pat  pe  bischop  of  dorham  deide :   as  we  ichul  don  alle* 
Men  wente  &  toke  seint  cuthbert :   &  made  him  bischop  pere* 
His  bischopriche  he  kepte  wel :   &  wel  J?e  folk  gan  lere* 
J>o  was  it  to-forj?e  broust:    J?at  J>e  angil  him  er  seide* 
fat  he  schulde  ben  hed  of  holi  chirche:   as  at  J?e  bal  he  pleide* 
J?o  he  hadde  longe  serued  god :   aftir  him  he  sente* 
So  )?at  in  )?e  monej?  of  march:  out  of  Jris  world  he  wente* 
To  J>e  hi  36  ioye  of  heuene:   gode  lete  us  also* 
And  Jx>ru  >>e  bone  of  seint  cuthbert:  bringe  us  alle  perto." 

The  Life  of  St.  Alban,  which  is  brief  enough  to  be  given 
in  full,  is  one  of  the  narratives  ascribed  to  Robert  of 
Gloucester.  Its  ninety-eight  lines  are  confined  almost 
entirely  to  telling  the  story  of  what  has  come  to  be  styled 
the  first  British  martyrdom.  The  narrative  of  Alban's 
hiding  a  persecuted  Christian  fugitive,  and  of  his  own  con 
version  through  watching  the  prayers  of  this  outcast;  of 
the  cruel  punishment  that  "  shame  it  was  to  see  ";  of  the 
death  "  up  the  hill  on  high  " — all  this  makes  an  irresistible 
appeal,  an  appeal  the  pathos  of  which  is  heightened  by  the 
quaint  language  and  verse.  We  can  well  understand  how, 
in  an  age  which  gave  birth  to  so  many  legends  of  the 
miraculous,  such  stories  as  this  found  eager  readers*  and 
may  well  feel  sure  that  the  quaint  verse,  which  has  not  yet 
lost  its  flavour,  made  a  sure  appeal  to  those  who  read  for 
themselves,  or  listened  to  others  read: 

"  Seyn  Albon  J?e  holi  mon:   was  her  of  engelonde* 
Imartred  he  was  uor  godes  loue:    J>oru  our  lordes  sonde* 
Hepene  man  he  was  uerst:   &  of  hepene  he  com* 
&  sej>)>e  as  our  lord  it  wolde:   he  tornde  to  Christendom* 
J?e  luj?er  prince  J?at  was  J>o:   dioclitian* 
&  )>e  oj?er  J>at  was  luj>er  ek:    J?at  hit  maximian* 
Cristenemen  pat  hi  mi3te  iwite:   hi  broste  alle  to  grounde* 
A  let  hem  seche  in  ech  londe:  war  hi  mi3te  be  ifounde* 

c 


34  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

A  justice  pat  was  wip  hem:  to  engelonde  corn- 
To  martri  alle  cristenemen:  &  destine  cristendom 
A  clerc  a  good  cristenemon :   hurde  telle  wide* 
Of  tormens  pat  opere  hadde:  he  ne  dorste  no  leng  abide* 
Ac  flei  to  hude  him  ellesware:    pat  he  imartred  nere* 
To  St.  Albones  hous  he  com :   &  bad  him  in  pere* 
St.  Albon  po  he  was  wip  him:   awaitede  &  isay 
Hou  he  was  in  orisouns:   bope  ny3t  &  dai* 
Him  }>o3te  pat  he  was  a  fol:   pat  he  was  hepene  so  longe* 
He  bigon  to  leue  on  ihesu  crist :   &  cristendom  auonge* 
pe  justice  let  pen  clerc  seche:  so  pat  it  was  ikud* 
Hou  at  Albones  hous:  wip  him  he  was  ihud* 
Knystes  he  sende  him  to  vetch :   3if  he  ifounde  were* 
Hi  come  &  escce  Albon:  wer  eny  such  were  pere* 
30  uor  gode  quap  pis  oper:  i  ne  him  no3t  uorsake* 
A  such  man  as  ich  am  mysulf :  i  nele  3ou  non  oper  take- 
A  pef  quepe  pis  luper  men:   artou  icome  herto* 
Wen  pu  wolt  as  a  strong  pef:  to  depe  pu  worst  ido* 
pis  holi  mon  hi  bounde  uaste:   &  to  pe  justice  him  bro3te* 
&  tolde  him  hou  he  pulte  him  uorp:  uor  pe  oper  pat  hi  so3te- 
Bel  amy  quap  pe  justice:  sei  wat  is  pi  name* 
&  of  wat  kunne  pu  art  icome:   pat  dost  cure  godes  schame* 
To  pis  demaunde  quap  St.  Albon:  ichulle  ansuere  sone* 
Of  wat  kunne  icham  icome:    pu  hast  lute  to  done* 
Albon  is  my  name  iwis :   &  ic  honore  also* 
God  pat  made  al  pat  is :   &  euermore  wole  do* 
A  traitour  quap  pe  justice:   artou  icome  herto* 
Ic  schal  tormenti  al  pi  bodi :  f  ram  toppe  to  pe  to* 
Hastou  ihud  atom  pen  pef:    pat  dop  ous  such  schame* 
&  ipult  uorp  pi  sulue:  wreche  in  his  name* 
Honoure  oure  godes  ic  pe  rede :   &  do  hem  sacrifice* 
Oper  ichulle  pe  tormenti :  pat  men  schulle  of  pe  agrise* 
Uor  pu  specst  quap  St.  Albon:  peraboute  pu  spillest  brep 
I  nele  neuer  pen  deuel  honoure:   uor  drede  of  pi  dep* 
Wrop  was  pe  justice  po:    pis  holi  mon  he  nom* 
Naked  he  let  him  uaste  bynde:   &  3af  sone  is  dom* 
Wip  scourges  is  tormentors:   leide  on  him  inowe* 
So  uaste  pat  hi  weri  were :   &  al  is  bodi  to  drowe* 
pe  harde  knottes  gonne  depe:  in  is  fiesc  wade- 
pe  more  pat  hi  him  bete:    pe  gladdore  hi  him  made* 
po  pe  luper  justice  isai:    pat  it  was  al  uor  no3t* 
pat  he  ne  mi3te  fram  ihesu  crist:   uor  no  ping  torne  is  pO3t 
He  let  him  lede  wippoute  toun:   &  is  heued  smyte  of  sone* 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  35 

pe  tormentors  all  3are  were:   uorte  don  is  bone- 
Hi  harlede  him  so  vilich :    pat  schame  it  was  to  se* 
Uorte  hi  come  to  pulke  stude :    pere  he  scholde  imartred  be- 
To  an  urnynge  broke  hi  com :    pere  hi  moste  on  wade* 
pe  tormentors  wode  on  abrod:   &  no  strenpe  ne  made* 
po  pis  holi  mon  puder  com:    pat  water  him  wip  drou* 
&  ouer  pe  broke  he  made  an  wei:   druse  &  clene  inou* 
pat  ouer  he  wende  also:  druse  as  it  alonde  were* 
Al  bihynde  him  euer  pat  water :  smot  to  gadere  pere* 
&  com  ayn  al  as  it  was :    po  he  com  to  londe* 
Lord  much  is  pi  miste:   hoso  it  wole  understonde* 
Hoso  hadde  mepencep  such  an  hyne :  to  lede  him  about  ilome- 
He  ne  dorste  no  ping  carie  to  wuch:   water  he  come* 
pe  maister  of  pe  tormentors :   to  warn  he  was  bitake* 
po  he  sei  pis  uayre  miracle :    pen  deuel  he  gan  uorsake* 
&  is  suerd  pat  he  bar  an  honde:   wel  uer  fram  him  caste* 
He  uel  to  St.  Albones  uet :   &  criede  mercy  him  uaste* 
pat  he  moste  uor  him  deie:  oper  bote  it  oper  were* 
pat  he  wip  him  in  pe  place:    pen  dep  auenge  pere* 
Up  an  hul  he  wende  an  hei :  as  hi  were  asigned  to* 
Wip  pis  holi  mon  St.  Albon:    pe  dede  to  do* 
St.  Albon  wilnede  afterward :   up  pe  hul  an  hei* 
He  bihuld  pat  pere  ne  miste:   no  water  come  pere  nei* 
Our  lord  he  bad  myd  gode  herte:    pat  he  sende  is  grace* 
pat  som  water  moste  come :   to  him  in  pulke  place* 
po  he  hadde  ido  is  orison :   &  our  lord  ibede* 
pere  sprong  upon  pe  heie  hul :   a  welle  in  pulke  stede* 
pe  beste  water  pat  mi$te  be :    pat  3ut  ilast  ic  wene* 
Euer  was  &  euer  worp:   our  lordes  miste  isene* 
pis  gode  knyst  pat  bileuede  on  god:   uor  pat  he  say  er 
Wel  more  he  criede  po  on  him :    uor  pe  miracle  pere* 
&  wilnede  much  pat  he  moste:   wip  him  deie  pere* 
So  pat  in  our  lordes  name:   bope  imartred  hi  were 
Ac  pe  tormentor  pat  smot  of :   St.  Albones  heued* 
He  ne  dorste  nost  selpe  pereof :  him  were  better  halbe  bileued* 
Uor  po  he  smot  of  is  heued :   ri$t  in  pulke  stounde 
His  eien  uelle  out  of  is  heued:   &  perewip  he  uel  to  grounde 
His  bisete  was  lute  pere:   it  uel  adoun  al  bihinde* 
He  miyte  segge  wan  he  com  horn:  war  her  comep  pe  blynde* 
Louerd  muchel  is  pi  miste:  hoso  wolde  understonde* 
pere  bi  pi  wiperwynne:   as  men  mi$te  fonde 
St.  Albon  imartred  was :  her  in  engelonde* 
Biside  pe  toun  of  wynchestre :   as  ic  understonde 


36  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

J?ere  is  nou  a  chirch  arered :   &  a  gret  abbei  also* 
J>at  men  clepej?  St.  Albones:   as  he  was  to  de}?e  ido* 
Nou  bidde  we  3erne  St.  Albon:   &  ihesu  crist  wel  uaste' 
J?at  we  mote  to  J>e  joie  come:    J?at  euer  schal  laste."  x 

All  the  verse  lives  of  saints,  whether  written  in  Latin, 
Old,  or  Middle  English,  exhibit  the  same  common  traits. 
They  seize  upon  a  few  of  the  salient  points  in  the  lives  of  the 
heroes  and  develop  these  usually  with  reference  to  the 
degree  of  wonder  which  the  incidents  are  likely  to  excite. 
The  purpose  of  them  all  is  frankly  to  commemorate  the  holi 
ness  of  their  subjects,  and  to  incite  others  to  discipleship 
and  emulation.  As  biographical  documents  they  are,  in 
common  with  all  saints'  lives,  one-sided :  they  are  religious 
documents,  detailing  spiritual  struggles  for  spiritual  ends, 
and  if  they  pause  to  record  anything  of  the  mere  physical, 
earthly  existence,  they  do  so  merely  to  emphasise  the 
spiritual,  or,  at  worst,  to  gratify  some  whim  of  the  writer. 
It  is  true  that,  as  the  strictly  spiritual  purpose  of  these 
lives  receded  into  the  background,  and  the  narratives 
became  more  and  more  stories  to  amuse  and  to  aid  in 
whiling  away  the  time,  elements  of  humour  and  satire  far 
enough  from  the  spiritual  were  introduced.  Professor 
Saintsbury  finds  the  origin  of  Romance  2  in  "  the  marriage 
of  the  older  East  and  the  newer  (non-classical)  West 
through  the  agency  of  the  spread  of  Christianity  and  the 
diffusion  of  the  '  Saint's  Life  '  ";  the  Rev.  Alfred  Plummer, 
as  we  have  already  seen,  refers  to  saints'  lives  as  "  the 
novels  of  all  ranks  of  society."  If  we  may  accept  these 
views,  we  should  have  no  difficulty  in  acknowledging  that 

>  This  version  is  a  transcript  of  MS.  Ashmole  43,  ff.  1640-165^ 
In  Early  English  Verse  Lives  of  Saints  another  version,  that  of 
MS.  Laud  108,  in  106  lines,  is  given.  MS.  Laud  108  is  the  oldest 
of  the  various  versions  of  the  verse  lives  (c.  1280-90),  but  Ashmole 
43  (c.  1 300)  more  properly  represents  the  dialect  in  which  the  original 
is  composed. 

J  The  English  Novel,  p.  3. 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  37 

in  the  lives  of  saints  (prose  and  verse)  we  have  the  begin 
nings  of  the  "  novel  with  a  purpose."  1 

Apart  from  these  metrical  lives  of  saints,  the  story  of 
English  biography  in  verse  is  indeed  brief.  After  a  fashion, 
The  Mirror  for  Magistrates  continued  the  work  abandoned 
by  the  monkish  writers  and  catered  to  the  appetites  of  those 
who  loved  verse  narratives  somewhat  after  the  fashion 
of  saints'  lives.  It  is  significant  that  John  Lydgate 
forms  the  connecting  link  between  the  two  kinds  of  narra 
tives.  The  Mirror  for  Magistrates  grew  out  of  Lydgate's 
translation  of  The  boke  of  lohan  Bochas  descruying  the  fall 
of  Princes,  Princesses,  and  other  Nobles,  of  which,  in  truth, 
it  was  a  continuation.  "  Whan  the  printer  had  purposed 
with  himself  to  printe  Lidgates  booke  of  the  fall  of  Princes," 
thus  writes  William  Baldwin,  the  original  editor  (1555- 
1610)  of  The  Mirror,  "  and  had  made  pryuye  therto  many 
both  honourable  and  worshipfull,  he  was  counsailed  by 
dyuers  of  them  to  procure  to  have  the  storye  contynewed 
from  where  as  Bochas  left,  vnto  this  present  time,  chiefly 
of  such  as  Fortune  had  dalyed  with  here  in  this  ylande: 
which  might  be  as  a  mirrour  for  al  men  as  well  nobles  as 
others."  The  title  of  the  work,  however,  indicates  that  the 
whole,  while  based  upon  biography,  is  not  biographical  in 
purpose  :  The  Mir  our  for  Magistrates,  wherein  may  bee 
seene,  by  examples  passed  in  this  Re  dime  with  how  greeuous 
plagues  vices  are  punished  in  great  Princes  and  Magistrates  : 

1 "  They  represent  the  Christian  mythology  as  it  has  been  formed 
in  the  course  of  centuries.  Some  of  them  are  historical  or  fixed  by 
tradition;  others  are  the  result  of  fiction,  typical  of  the  Christian 
hero.  The  style  of  these  legends  is,  no  doubt,  coarse  and  rude  to  the 
modern  taste;  but  it  is  popular,  adapted  to  the  subject,  to  the  public, 
and  to  the  occasion.  The  narrative  is  generally  happy  and  well  con 
ducted.  .  .  .  Everywhere  we  find  dispersed  sallies  of  wit  and  sarcasm 
which  spare  no  class,  no  sex,  not  the  clergy  itself.  So  the  Collection 
deserves  attention,  not  only  from  an  hagiologic,  but  also  from  a 
poetic  and  literary  point  of  view." — Early  English  Verst  Lives  of 
Saints,  Introduction,  No.  87,  E.E.T.S.  Original  Series. 


38  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

and  how  frail  and  vnstable  worldly  prosperity  is  found,  where 
Fortune  seemeth  most  highly  to  favour.  Sackville,  in  the 
Induction,  also  states  plainly  the  didactic  purpose  of  the 
book : 

"  My  busie  mynde  presented  vnto  mee 
Such  fall  of  peeres  as  in  the  realme  had  bee : 
That  oft  I  wisht  some  would  their  woes  descryue, 
To  warne  the  rest  whome  fortune  left  a  Hue." 

Thus  it  is  that  The  Mirror  for  Magistrates,  called  forth  by 
Lydgate's  translation  of  Boccaccio's  book,  plainly  bio 
graphical  in  principle,  and  continuing  the  popular  verse- 
narrative  literature,  is  only  so  far  biography  as  is  necessary 
to  "  point  a  moral  "  and  "  to  warne  the  rest." 

The  Mirror  for  Magistrates  is,  for  still  another  reason, 
closely  connected  with  the  story  of  biography  in  verse. 
Among  its  "  examples "  we  find  Thomas  Churchyard's 
legend,  founded  on  the  narrative  of  Cardinal  Wolsey's  life, 
relating  "  How  Thomas  Wolsey  did  arise  unto  great 
authority  and  gouernment,  his  manner  of  life,  pompe,  and 
dignity,  and  how  he  fell  downe  into  great  disgrace,  and  was 
arrested  of  high  treason."  *  Churchyard's  contribution  is 
written  in  a  seven-line  stanza  of  decasyllabic  verse, 
rhyming  ababbcc.  In  1599  there  appeared  The  Life  and 
Death  of  Thomas  Wolsey,  Cardinall.  Divided  into  three  parts  : 
His  Aspiring,  Triumph  and  Death.  By  Thomas  Storer, 
Student  of  Christ  Church  in  Oxford.  This  work,  written  after 
the  model  of  Churchyard's  legend,  may  more  properly 
claim  a  place  in  the  annals  of  biography. 

Of  Sir  Thomas  Storer  (1571-1604)  but  little  is  known 
beyond  the  facts  that  he  became  a  student  of  Christ  Church 
in  1587,  proceeded  to  the  degree  of  B.A.  in  1591,  and  that 
of  M.A.  in  1594,  and  is  represented  by  a  number  of  lyrics  in 
England9 s  Parnassus  (1600).  His  fame  rests  chiefly  upon 

1  Haslewood's  edition,  vol.  ii.  pp.  484-501. 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  39 

the  metrical  Life  of  Wolsey.  Anthony  Wood  records  that 
he  was  "  had  in  great  renown  for  his  most  excellent  vein  in 
poesy,"  and  makes  mention  of  a  eulogy  bestowed  upon 
him  by  Alberic  Gentilis  after  that  learned  doctor  had 
perused  the  Wolsey  poem.  We  are  reminded  that  Storer 
"  is  not  to  be  confounded  with  such  as  only  wrote  thus 
because  it  was  the  mode,"  and  that  testimonies  such  as 
those  recorded  by  Wood,  "  pronounced  in  the  age  of 
Spenser,  of  Raleigh,  and  Sackville,  are  not  to  be  regarded 
as  trivial  praise."  l 

In  the  Life  and  Death  of  Wolsey,  Storer  gives  no  new 
facts.  He  follows  closely  the  prose  Life  of  Wolsey  by  George 
Cavendish,  and  the  account  given  in  Holinshed,  selecting 
"  from  the  known  details  of  so  eventful  a  life  such  passages 
as  form  the  best  theme  for  poetical  ornament  or  moral 
reflection."  We  are  not,  therefore,  surprised  to  find  that 
later  writers  a  commend  the  historical  veracity  of  Storer's 
poem.  Of  the  three  parts  into  which  the  whole  is  divided, 
the  Wolseius  aspirans  comprises  one  hundred  and  one 
stanzas;  the  Wolseius  triumphans,  eighty-nine;  and  the 
Wolseius  moriens,  fifty-one — the  stanza  form  being  that  of 
Churchyard's  Wolsey  legend.  The  work  exhibits  both  the 
good  and  the  bad  qualities  of  the  poetry  of  the  age.  The 
classical  machinery  and  allusions,  the  elaboration,  the 
obscurity  "  arising  from  the  inveterate  love  of  conceits," 

1  Introduction  to  1826  edition,  Life  and  Death  of  Wolsey,  pp.  xi-xii. 

1  In  a  letter  (Dec.  31,  1705)  to  Thomas  Hearne,  Thomas  Smith 
wrote:  "  I  believe  some  good  historical  remarks  may  be  collected 
from  Storer's  books,  of  the  Life  and  Death  of  Cardinal  Wolsey,  in 
English  verse  .  .  .  the  poets  of  that  age  for  the  most  part  not 
corrupting  the  truth  of  fact  with  the  additions  of  phansy  and  fable, 
but  thinking  that  they  had  done  their  part  well  enough  if  they  had 
put  their  collections  into  rithme." — Letters  by  Eminent  Persons,  vol. 
i.  p.  145.  This  is  the  letter  erroneously  attributed  to  John  Aubrey 
in  the  article  on  Storer  in  Diet.  Nat.  Biog.  In  the  Letters,  vol.  i.  p.  147, 
the  remark  is  also  made  that  Shakespeare  probably  took  the  story 
of  Wolsey's  fall  from  this  source. 


40  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

contrast  strongly  with  the  ease  and  smoothness  of  versifi 
cation,  the  occasional  simplicity  and  dignity,  and  a  vivid 
imagery  that  now  and  then  approaches  poetry  of  high 
quality.  The  whole  takes  the  form  of  a  story  addressed  by 
Wolsey  to  the  two  Muses,  Clio  and  Melpomene.  To  Clio  are 
addressed  the  "Aspiring"  and  the  "Triumph";  to 
Melpomene  the  "  tragicke  mone  "  of  the  "  Dying."  In 
effect,  the  work  is  a  monologue.  It  is  worth  while  to  quote 
somewhat  at  length  from  the  poem.  Treating  as  it  does  of  a 
great  subject,  related  as  it  is  to  the  work  of  Cavendish  and 
Holinshed,  necessarily  to  be  thought  of  in  connexion  with 
Shakespeare's  King  Henry  Fill.,  possessing  a  merit  of  its 
own,  and  standing  all  but  unique  in  biographical  history, 
it  has  a  claim  upon  our  attention,  which,  apart  from  this 
combination  of  circumstances,  could  not  be  accorded  to  it. 
The  narrative  introduces  us  at  once  into  the  presence  of 
Wolsey  and  the  two  Muses : 

"  Betweene  two  Muses,  in  the  deepe  of  night, 
There  sate  a  reverend  Father,  full  of  woe : 
They  gaz'd  on  him,  and  from  that  dismall  sight 
A  kind  remorse  was  willing  them  to  go ; 
But  cruell  fortune  would  not  have  it  so : 
Fortune,  that  erst  his  pride  had  overthrowne, 
Would  have  her  power  by  his  misfortune  knowne. 

"  Where  fruitfull  Thames  salutes  the  learned  shoare, 
Was  this  grave  Prelate  and  the  Muses  placed; 

And  by  those  waves  he  builded  had  before 
A  royall  house,  with  learned  Muses  graced, 
But  by  his  death  unperfect  and  defaced: — 

'  O  blessed  walls,  and  broken  towers,  (quoth  he) 

That  never  rose  to  fall  againe  with  me ! 

"  '  To  thee,  first  sister  of  the  learned  nine, 

Historians'  goddesse,  patronesse  of  fame 
Entombing  worthies  in  a  living  shrine, 
Celestial  Clio  1  Clio,  peerlesse  dame, 
My  storie's  truth  and  triumph  I  will  frame; 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  41 

My  storie's  simple  truth,  if  ought  remaine, 
Enrich  my  legend  with  thy  sacred  veine. 

"  '  The  sad  discourse  of  my  untimely  fall, 

O  tragique  Muse,  shall  pierce  thy  sullen  cares, 
Melpomene !  though  nothing  can  apall 

Thy  heart,  obdurate  in  contempt  of  feares; 
My,  my  laments  shall  make  thee  write  in  tearea, 
If,  'mong  thy  scrolles  of  antique  majestic 
Thou  deigne  to  place  a  Prelate's  tragedie.'  " 

In  the  story  of  the  introduction  of  the  Cardinal  to 
Henry  VII.,  Storer  puts  into  the  mouth  of  Wolsey  a  char 
acterisation  of  Bishop  Fox  of  Winchester,  which  has  been 
much  admired: 

"  '  A  man  made  old  to  teach  the  worth  of  age, 

Patriarke-like,  and  grave  in  all  designes  ; 
One  that  had  finish'd  a  long  pilgrimage : 
Sparing  in  diet,  abstinent  from  wines, 
His  sinews  small  as  threeds  or  slender  lines; 
Lord  of  the  citty,  where  with  soleme  rites 
The  old  prince  Arthur  feasted  with  his  Knights. 

"  '  He  saw  my  gifts  were  such  as  might  deserve, 
He  knew  his  life  was  drawing  to  an  end, 

He  thought  no  meanes  so  likely  to  preserve 
His  fame,  with  time  and  envy  to  contend, 
As  to  advance  some  faithful-serving  friend, 

That,  living,  might  in  time  to  come  record 

Th'  immortall  praise  of  his  deceased  lord. 

"  '  He  brought  me  first  in  presence  of  the  King, 
Who  then  allotted  me  his  Chaplain's  place; 
My  eloquence  did  such  contentment  bring 
Unto  his  eares,  that  never  prince  did  grace 
Poore  chaplaine  more,  nor  lowly  priest  embrace 
Dread  soveraigne  so :   for  nature  teacheth  ever — 
Who  loves  preferment  needes  must  love  the  giver.'  " 

The  story  of  Wolsey's  mission  to  arrange  a  treaty  of 
marriage  between  Henry  VII.  and  Margaret  of  Savoy, 
daughter  of  the  Emperor  Maximilian,  who  was  at  that 
time  in  Flanders,  is  thus  told : 


42  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

'  '  Next,  who  but  I  was  sent  Embassadour, 

With  Europe's  greatest  monarch  to  intreat, 
Caesar  of  Almaine,  German's  emperour; 
In  Belgia  keeping  his  imperiall  seat, 
To  handle  matters  of  importance  great: 
My  hap  was  such,  the  king  could  hardly  ghesse 
Which  pleasde  him  more,  my  speede  or  good  successe. 

"  '  The  Argonauticke  vessel  never  past 

With  swifter  course  along  the  Colchan  maine 

Then  my  small  barke,  with  faire  and  speedy  blast, 
Convay'd  me  forth,  and  reconvay'd  againe. 
Thrice  had  Arcturus  driv'n  his  restlesse  waine, 

And  heav'ns  bright  lampe  the  day  had  thrice  reviv'd, 

From  last  departure  till  I  first  arriv'd. 

"  '  The  king,  not  deeming  I  had  yet  beene  gone, 
Was  angry  for  my  long  surmiz'd  delay. 

I  tolde  his  majestic,  that  all  was  done, 
And  more  than  all ;   and  did  his  pardon  pray, 
That  I  beyond  commission  went  astray; 

And  could  have  wisht  for  ever  to  be  chid, 

With  answer  to  content  as  then  I  did.'  " 

When  Wolsey  has  won  his  way  into  the  heart  of  Henry 
VII.,  and  is  nearing  the  zenith  of  his  career,  Storer  makes 
him  speak  in  this  manner: 

"  '  Transplanted  thus  into  a  fertile  spring, 

And  watred  from  above  with  heav'nly  dew, 
Enlightned  with  the  presence  of  my  king, 
My  branches  waxed  large  and  faire  of  hew; 
And  all  about  fresh  buddes  of  honour  grew, 
Garlands  of  lordships,  blossomes  of  degree, 
White  roddes  of  office,  keyes  of  knightly  fee.'  " 

After  we  have  followed  the  aspiring  and  the  triumph  of 
the  great  Cardinal,  we  hear  him  confessing  to  Melpomene 
the  frailty  of  human  fortune : 

"  '  With  honorable  burdens  I  have  tir'de 

My  fortune's  wheele,  that  it  can  turne  no  more; 
The  leases  of  my  lordships  are  expir'de, 

My  lamp  burnt  out,  poore  metaphor's  great  store, 
To  trope  my  miseries  my  heart  growes  sore. 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  43 

Help  me,  for  I  have  surfeited  of  late, 
Some  Paracelsian  of  a  sublimate. 

"  '  Sublim'd  indeede,  but  all  the  purest  gone, 

The  treasure  is  in  others  coffers  laid ; 
Now  write,  Melpomene,  my  tragicke  mone; 
Call  Neroe's  learned  maister,  he  will  ayd 
Thy  failing  quill,  with  what  himself  once  sayd: 
Never  did  fortune  greater  instance  give, 
In  what  fraile  state  prowd  magistrates  do  live.'  " 

In  this  extremity,  the  fallen  prelate  is  yet  not  without 
hope;  with  these  words  the  "  sad  discourse  "  ends  and 
silence  reigns  "  in  the  deepe  of  night  "  : 

"  '  Yet  I  that  durst  offend,  dare  hope  for  grace 

Beyond  all  reason,  contrary  to  sence; 
Salvation  heavy  sinners  may  embrace, 
If  God  remit  the  guilt  of  deep  offence; 
Let  all  the  world  hang  in  their  own  suspence; 
The  world  is  but  a  poynt,  whereon  men  dwell, 
And  I  am  at  a  poynt  what  they  can  tell. 

"  '  If  any  billes  of  new  inditement  come, 

At  the  King's  bench  in  heav'n  I  must  appeere, 
Long  since  arrested,  now  expect  my  doome; 
Sue  where  you  list,  but  I  must  answere  there, 
Die  and  accuse  me  in  that  hemisphere; 
Nor  flesh,  nor  bloud  my  declaration  telles. 
Mine  owne  accuser  in  my  bosome  dwelles. 

"  '  In  whose  great  temple,  richly  beautified, 

Pav'd  al  with  starres  disperst  on  saphyre  flowre, 

The  clarke  is  a  pure  angel  sanctified ; 

The  Judge,  our  true  Messias,  full  of  powre; 
The  Apostles,  his  assistants  every  houre: 

The  jury,  Saints;  the  verdict,  Innocent; 

The  sentence — "  Come,  ye  blessed,  to  my  tent!  " 

"  '  The  speare  that  pierc'd  his  side,  the  writing  pen; 

Christ's  bloud  the  inke,  red  inke  for  princes  name; 
The  vailes  great  breach,  the  miracle  for  men; 
The  sight  is  shew  of  them  that,  long  dead,  came 
From  their  old  graves,  restor'd  to  living  frame; 
And  that  last  signet,  passing  all  the  rest, 
Our  soules  discharg'd  by — Consummatum  est  I 


44  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

"  '  Here  endlesse  joy  is  their  perpetuall  cheare; 
Their  exercise,  sweete  songs  of  many  parts ; 
Angells  the  quire,  whose  symphonic  to  heare, 
Is  able  to  provoke  conceiving  harts 
To  misconceive  of  al  inticing  arts ; 
The  dittie,  prayse;   the  subject  is  the  Lord, 
That  tunes  their  gladsome  spirit  to  this  accord. 

"  '  Stay  then,  till  some  good  meteor  appeare; 

Or  let  the  sunne  exhale  me,  vapor-wise; 
Stirre  Charles'  wayne,  and  see  the  coast  be  cleare; 

Let  no  congealed  clowdes  or  mistes  arise 

Along  the  mooving  circle  of  the  skies : 
Or  rather,  shut  up  all  in  darksome  night, 
That  none  may  see  my  silent  secret  flight.'  " 

It  has  several  times  been  suggested  that  Shakespeare 
may  have  had  the  subject  of  Wolsey's  fall  brought  to  his 
attention  by  this  poem.  However  that  may  be,  it  is  worth 
while  to  look  at  the  manner  in  which  both  writers  have 
borrowed  from  what  is  undoubtedly  the  common  source. 
This  pathetic  sentence  from  Cavendish's  Life  of  Wolsey — 
"  '  Well,  well,  master  Kingston,'  quoth  he,  '  I  see  the  matter 
against  me  how  it  is  framed;  but  if  I  had  served  God  as 
diligently  as  I  have  done  the  king,  he  would  not  have  given 
me  over  in  my  grey  hairs  '  " — was  copied  verbatim  by  Holin- 
shed,  from  whom  Shakespeare  doubtless  borrowed  it  and 
thus  introduced  it  into  King  Henry  Fill. : 

\  "  Had  I  but  served  my  God  with  half  the  zeal 
I  served  my  king,  he  would  not  in  mine  age 
Have  left  me  naked  to  mine  enemies."  . 

Storer's  version  of  the  sentence  runs : 

"  '  And  had  the  dutie  to  my  God  bin  such, 
As  it  was  faithful  serving  to  the  king, 
Then  had  my  conscience,  free  from  feare  or  touch, 
Mounted  aloft  on  cherubins  swift  wing, 
In  holy  consort  borne  apart  to  sing. 
That  now  with  heavy  weight  is  overspread, 
And  with  my  body  wishes  to  be  dead.'  " 


ENGLISH  VERSE  LIVES  45 

Unequal  in  quality  as  the  poem  is,  and  defaced  by 
faults  of  obscurity  and  affectation,  it  yet  repays  those  who 
take  the  trouble  to  read  it.  Its  intimate  connexion  with  the 
narratives  of  Cavendish  and  Holinshed,  and  through  them 
to  the  work  of  Shakespeare,  must,  apart  from  any  merit 
of  its  own,  keep  it  in  remembrance.  Its  disregard  and 
rejection  of  every  detail  save  those  which  lend  themselves 
to  the  progress  of  verse  narrative  clearly  indicate  the  dis 
advantages  of  poetry  as  a  biographical  medium. 

Verse  lives  exerted  no  influence  on  the  development  of 
later  English  biography.  The  verse  lives  of  saints,  although 
they  constitute  an  interesting  phase  in  the  development  of 
hagiology,  nevertheless,  in  the  evolution  of  biography  in 
general,  represent  an  extinct  branch,  and  their  influence  is 
negligible.  Biography — in  the  etymological  sense — does 
not  readily  lend  itself  to  treatment  in  verse ;  the  story  of  a 
life  is  not  the  story  of  a  few  great  moments,  and  the  sup 
pression  or  rejection  of  all  that  goes  to  make  up  by  far  the 
greater  part  of  that  life.  The  history  of  the  form  proves  this. 
Verse  lives  of  saints  are  interesting  relics  of  the  past. 
Storer s  metrical  Life  of  Wolsey  stands  alone  in  biography. 
Tusser,  whose  verse  "  Life  "  is  recognised  as  the  first  auto 
biography  in  English,  waited  more  than  two  centuries 
before  Wordsworth  kept  him  company.  If  the  space  here 
allotted  to  verse  lives  should  seem  to  any  to  be  out  of  pro 
portion  to  their  value,  we  can  only  plead  that  their  very 
incompetency  and  failure  seem  to  call  for  a  treatment  more 
extended  than  their  influence  on  the  general  development 
of  the  course  of  biography  would  merit. 


46  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


CHAPTER  IV 

THE  PERIOD  OF   NEW  BEGINNINGS   IN    ENGLISH   (1500-1700) 

DURING  the  time  included  within  the  limits  of  this  chapter, 
the  old  habits  of  life-writing  disappeared  and  the  new 
beginnings  were  made  of  biography  in  the  English  tongue. 
The  bonds  of  the  old  biographical  methods  loosened  almost 
imperceptibly;  the  transition  to  English  was  gradual.  Not 
withstanding  the  fact  that  many  lives  of  saints  in  prose 
and  verse  were  written  in  English,  the  supremacy  of  the 
Latin  language  relaxed  slowly,  maintaining  itself,  in  truth, 
until  far  into  the  eighteenth  century.  As  the  interest  in 
hagiology  declined,  a  new  interest  in  antiquarian  research 
arose,  and  led  to  the  production  of  many  ^collections  which 
are  fundamentally  biographical.  At  first,  as  was  inevitable 
in  such  a  period,  these  collections  were  written  in  Latin. 
Later  on,  similar  collections  were  published  in  English; 
but  it  was  practically  a  century  after  the  publication  of  the 
first  biographical  collection  in  English  before  Latin  was 
abandoned  by  the  writers  of  these  compilations.  These 
products  of  the  new  antiquarian  spirit  form  one  of  the  most 
characteristic  features  of  this  period. 

To  John  Boston  (fi.  1410),  a  Benedictine  monk  of  the 
monastery  of  St.  Edmunds-Bury,  Suffolk,  is  generally 
ascribed  the  honour  of  beginning  this  antiquarian  research 
and  compilation.  Boston,  "  who  gave  the  first  example  of 
that  method  which  succeeding  writers  pursued,"  examined 
the  libraries  of  all  the  abbeys  in  England,  made  an  alpha 
betical  list  of  the  books  contained  therein,  and  gave  brief 
notices  of  the  authors.  Those  who  continued  the  method 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       47 

in  Latin,  with  varying  degrees  of  improvement,  were  John 
Leland  (d.  1552),  appointed  King's  Antiquary  in  1533, 
"  the  first  and  indeed  the  last  that  bore  that  honourable 
office";  John  Bale  (1495-1563);  and  John  Pits  (1560- 
1616);  followed  later  by  Thomas  Dempster  (1579  £-1625), 
who  professed  to  commemorate  the  Scotch  authors;  Sir 
James  Ware  (1594-1666),  who  recorded  notices  of  authors 
born  or  preferred  in  Ireland;  William  Cave  (1637-1713), 
who,  in  his  ambitious  Scriptorum  Ecclesiasticorum  Historia 
LiUraria^  begins  his  list  of  writers  with  Jesus  Christ  "  on 
account  of  the  celebrated  epistle  which  he  wrote  to 
Abgarus  "  ("  quam  ob  celebrem  illam  ad  Abgarum  Edes- 
senum  epistolam");  and  Thomas  Tanner  (1674-1735). 
Tanner's  great  work,  which  embodies  the  result  of  forty 
years'  labour,  was  edited  by  Dr.  David  Wilkins,  and 
published  in  1748,  under  the  title  Bibliotheca  Britannico- 
Hibernica.  The  Bibliotheca,  based  upon  the  work  of  Leland, 
Bale,  and  Pits,  and  containing  the  substance  of  Boston's 
unpublished  manuscript,  fitly  represents  the  culmination 
of  the  original  group  of  compilers.  It  was  the  last  of  such 
works  published  in  Latin. 

The  works  *  of  Leland,  Bale,  and  Pits  have  not  been 
generally  accessible  to  students,  most  of  the  information  in 
regard  to  them  being  taken  at  second-hand.  Perhaps  for 
this  reason  they  have  been  rated  higher  than  they  deserve. 
Examination  shows  the  information  which  they  contain  to 
be  scant,  fanciful,  inaccurate,  prejudiced,  even  ludicrous.  In 
referring  to  the  books,  one  is  amused  to  find  Leland  start 
ing  out  with  a  dissertation  on  the  Druids;  Bale  beginning 

1  Inasmuch  as  the  works  of  antiquarians  and  compilers  of  diction 
aries  of  biography  are  limited  to  notices  and  sketches  of  writers,  it 
has  been  deemed  best  not  to  discuss  them  at  length  in  the  text,  but 
to  list  them  in  the  appendix,  pp.  287-96,  where  they  are  briefly  sum 
marised.  At  most,  the  early  works  of  this  character  represent  but 
the  growing  interest  in  biographical  study. 


48  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

his  catalogue  of  British  writers  with  Samothes  Gigas, 
who  lived  not  long  after  the  deluge;  and  Pits  beginning 
with  the  mythical  Brutus.  This  fantastic  element  was 
pointed  out  as  far  back  as  1662  by  Thomas  Fuller.  "  Being 
to  handle  this  subject  [of  writers],"  remarks  Fuller,  "  let 
not  the  reader  expect  that  I  will  begin  their  catalogue  from 
fabulous  antiquity,  or  rather  fanciful  fabels.  For  if  the 
first  Century  of  J.  Bale  or  J.  Pits  their  British  writers  were 
garbled,,  four  parts  oijive  would  be  found  to  be  trash,  such 
as 


1.  Samothes  Gigas 

2.  Magus  Samotheus 

3.  Sarron  Magius 

4.  Druys  Sarronius 


5.  Barbus  Druydius 

6.  Albion  Mareoticus 

7.  Brytus  Julius 

8.  Gerion  Augur 


9.  Aquila  Septonius 

10.  Perdix  Prasagus 

11.  Cambra  Formosa 

12.  Plenidius  Sagax,  etc. 


Of  these  some  never  were  men,  others  (if  men)  never  were 
writers,  others  (if  writers)  never  left  works  continuing  to 
our  age,  though  some  manuscript-mongers  may  make  as 
if  they  had  perused  them.  It  is  well  they  had  so  much 
modesty  as  not  to  pretend  inspection  into  the  Book  of  life, 
seeing  all  other  books  have  come  under  their  omnividencu"1 
These  early  compilers  had  few  scruples  about  borrowing 
from  predecessors  without  giving  credit  to  the  sources,  or 
about  adapting  information  in  any  way  to  suit  their  pur 
poses.  Fuller  again,  in  his  humorous  manner,  calls  attention 
to  this  fact  in  a  famous  parallelism  which  well  embodies  the 
characteristics  of  the  three  worthies  whom  he  mentions. 
It  is  in  the  notice  of  Pits  that  Fuller  speaks  out,  saying 
that  "  he  [Pits]  wrote  many  volumes  of  several  subjects, 
one  of  the  Apostolical  men,  another  of  the  kings  and 
bishops  in  England,  but  because  he  survived  not  to  see 
them  set  forth,  he  was  as  good  as  his  word,  mecum 
morientur  &  sepelientur,  with  him  they  died  and  were 
buried;  onely  that  his  book  is  brought  to  light  which  is 

1  History  of  the  Worthies  of  England,  chap.  x.  p.  26  (ed.  1662). 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       49 

intituled,  de  Illustribus  Angliae  Scriptoribus,  a  subject 
formerly  handled  by  many,  so  that  some  stick  not  to  say: 

J.  Leland  is  the  industrious  BEE  working  ~\ 

J.  Bale  is  the  angry  WASP  stinging  I  all."  * 

J.  Pits  is  the  idle  DRONE  stealing 

These  antiquarians  cannot  be  entirely  ignored  in  a  discus- 
lion  of  English  biography,  however,  if  for  no  other  reason 
than  that  of  the  pernicious  influence  which  they  exerted 
on  those  who  followed  them,  copied  their  inaccuracies,  mis- 
statements,  false  inferences,  and  fanciful  imaginings,  and 
thus  perpetuated  these  errors  even  to  modern  times.  In 
his  exhaustive  Studies  in  Chaucer,*  Professor  Thomas  R. 
Lounsbury  treats  at  length  of  the  influence  of  these  three 
men  on  Chaucerian  scholarship,  an  influence  which  con 
tinued  until  long  past  the  time  of  Samuel  Johnson.  What 
Professor  Lounsbury  has  demonstrated  to  be  true  of 
biographical  notices  of  Chaucer  well  down  into  the  nine 
teenth  century,  could  without  doubt  be  proved,  to  a 
greater  or  less  degree,  of  most  English  biography  to  the  time 
of  James  Boswell. 

And  yet  the  work  of  these  early  antiquarians — even 
of  Boston,  Leland,  Bale,  and  Pits — is  not  entirely  without 
yalue.  The  gaps  in  English  biography — not  to  speak  of 
those  in  the  early  history  of  Great  Britain — are  numerous 
enough  and  wide  enough  as  it  is.  The  destruction  wrought 
by  the  incursions  of  the  Danes  and  attendant  upon  the 
Norman  Conquest  blotted  out  much  that  we  should  like 
to  know.  In  the  sixteenth  century,  the  dissolution,  from 

1  History  of  the  Worthies  of  England,  "  Hant-shire,"  p.  14. 

1  No  student  should  fail  to  read  the  first  two  chapters  of  vol.  i. 
Professor  Lounsbury  is  severe  in  his  criticism  of  those  who  attempted 
early  notices  of  Chaucer,  yet  his  severity  is  apparently  justified. 
These  two  chapters  are  also  valuable  to  those  interested  in  methods 
of  biography. 


So  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

1537  to  1539,  of  the  greater  monasteries,  followed  in  1545  by 
the  seizure  of  all  other  religious  foundations,  helped  to  blot 
out  much  of  what  little  remained  in  the  way  of  historical 
and  literary  documents.  That  we  know  as  much  as  we  do 
of  the  early  literary  history  of  Great  Britain  is  due  in 
no  small  part  to  these  unscholarly,  uncritical,  credulous 
antiquarians  and  compilers.  It  is  something  to  their  credit 
that  they  recognised  and  bewailed  the  carelessness  of  the 
times.1  All  this  is  said  with  due  regard  to  the  worthlessness 
of  much  of  their  work.  There  is,  moreover,  it  cannot  be 
denied,  a  certain  satisfaction  in  having  only  an  echo  of 
what  may  be  an  historic  truth.2  And  how  much  of  scholarly 
research  and  disputation  might  have  been  done  away  with 
had  these  pioneers  been  scrupulously  exact ! 

Thomas  Fuller  (1608-1661)  edited  the  first  biographical 
volume  published  in  the  English  language  (1651),  a  work 
bearing  the  title  of  Abel  Redevivus  :  or  the  dead  yet  speaking  ; 
The  Lives  and  Deaths  of  the  Moderne  Divines.  This  book  is 
little  more  than  hack-work  "  digested  into  one  volume  for 

1  Thus  John  Bale  in  his  Dedication  of  Leyland's  Laboryouse 
Journey,  etc.,  to  Edward  VI.,  1549  :  "  Among  all  the  nacions  in 
whome  I  have  wandered  for  the  knowledge  of  thynges  (most  benygne 
souerayne)  I  have  found  nene  so  negligent  and  untoward,  as  I  have 
found  England  in  the  due  serch  of  theyr  auncyent  historyes,  to  the 
syngulare  fame  and  bewtye  thereof.  Thys  haue  I  (as  it  were)  wyth 
a  wofulnesse  of  hert  sense  my  tendre  youth  bewayled.  ...  If  your 
most  noble  father  of  excellent  memory,  Kynge  Henry  the  viii  had 
not  of  a  godly  zele,  by  specyall  Commyssyon,  directed  maystre 
Johan  Leylande,  to  ouersee  a  nombre  of  theyre  sayde  libraries,  we 
had  lost  infynyte  treasure  of  knowledge,  by  the  spoyle,  which  anon 
afterfolowedof  their  due  suppression."  Centuries  before  this,  Nennius, 
in  the  introduction  to  the  History  of  the  Britons,  lamented  thus  : 
"  I,  Nennius,  disciple  of  St.  Elbotus,  have  endeavoured  to  write 
some  extracts  which  the  dulness  of  the  British  nation  had  cast 
away,  because  teachers  had  no  knowledge,  nor  gave  any  informa 
tion  in  their  books  about  the  island  of  Britain." 

a  As  for  example  :  "  Then  it  was,  that  the  magnanimous  Arthur, 
with  all  the  kings  and  military  force  of  Britain,  fought  against  the 
Saxons.  And  though  there  were  many  more  noble  than  himself, 
yet  he  was  twelve  times  chosen  their  commander,  and  was  as  often 
conqueror." — Nennius,  History  of  the  Britons. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       51 

the  benefit  and  satisfaction  of  all  those  that  desire  to  be 
acquainted  with  the  paths  of  piety  and  virtue,"  as  the  title 
page  further  informs  the  reader.  The  manner  in  which  the 
somewhat  more  than  one  hundred  sketches  were  put 
together  is  thus  described  by  Fuller  in  "  The  Epistle  to  the 
Reader  " :  "  As  for  the  makers  thereof,  they  are  many : 
some  done  by  Doctor  Featly,  now  at  rest  with  God,  viz., 
The  lives  of  Jewell,  Reynolds,  Abbot,  and  diverse  others. 
Some  by  that  reverend  and  learned  Divine  Master  Gataker, 
viz.,  The  lives  of  Peter  Martyr,  Bale,  Whitgift,  Ridley, 
Whitaker,  Parker,  and  others.  Doctor  Willets  life  by 
Doctor  Smith,  his  son-in-law.  Erasmus  his  life  by  the 
reverend  Bishop  of  Kilmore.  The  life  of  Bishop  Andrewes, 
by  the  judicious  and  industrious,  my  worthy  friend 
Master  Isaackson:  and  my  meanness  wrote  all  the  lives  of 
Berengarius,  Hus,  Hierom  of  Prague,  Archbishop  Cranmer, 
Master  Fox,  Perkins,  Junius,  etc.  Save  the.  most  part  of  the 
poetry  was  done  by  Master  Quarles,  father  and  son,  suffi 
ciently  known  for  their  abilities  therein.  The  rest  the 
stationer  got  transcribed  out  of  Mr.  Holland  and  other 
authors."  The  poetry  to  which  reference  is  made  consists 
of  a  summary  appended  to  each  sketch.  As  the  first 
biographical  collection  in  English,  the  book  is  worthy  of 
remembrance;  it  has,  in  addition,  an  intrinsic  value  of  its 
own.  It  is  worth  the  while  of  any  reader  to  turn  to  these 
sketches.  They  are  not  dull;  on  the  contrary,  they  are  full 
of  interest;  they  are  rabidly  partisan;  they  are  glowing 
with  honest  praise  or  hot  indignation;  they  are  full  of 
unconscious  humour.  The  volume,  even  though  not 
entirely  the  work  of  Fuller,  was  no  unfit  forerunner  of  his 
later  biographical  collection,  The  History  of  the  Worthies 
of  England. 

'The  History  of  the  Worthies  was  published  in  1662.  "  The 
matter  of  this  work,  for  the  most  part,"  wrote  John  Fuller, 


52  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

the  author's  son,  in  the  dedication,  "  is  the  description  of 
such  native  and  peculiar  commodities  as  the  several  counties 
of  your  Kingdom  [the  volume  was  dedicated  to  Charles  II.] 
afford,  with  a  revival  of  the  memories  of  such  persons  which 
have  in  each  county  been  eminent  for  parts  or  learning." 
William  Oldys  speaks  somewhat  contemptuously  of  the 
biographical  portion:  "  [Fuller's]  Lives  are  in  effect  no 
more  than  short  characters,  interspersed  now  and  then 
with  remarkable  stories  which  are  not  always  to  be  de 
pended  upon,  and  there  is  very  little  new  in  him:  Bale, 
Fox,  and  Stowe  are  his  principal  authors,  from  whom  he 
takes  plentifully  ...  a  fanciful,  rather  than  a  faithful 
writer,  very  little  concerned  about  dates  or  circumstances, 
and,  if  one  might  be  indulged  for  once  in  his  manner  of 
speaking,  rather  desirous  of  making  his  readers  merry  than 
wise."  l  We  may,  indeed,  agree  entirely  with  the  last 
statement;  Fuller  had  set  before  himself  as  one  of  his 
objects  in  writing,  "  to  entertain  the  reader  with  delight." 
"  I  confess,"  he  writes,  "  the  subject  is  but  dull  in  itself, 
to  tell  the  time  and  place  of  men's  birth,  and  deaths,  their 
names,  with  the  names  and  number  of  their  books,  and 
therefore  this  bare  sceleton  of  Time,  Place,  and  Person, 
must  be  fleshed  with  some  pleasant  passages.  To  this 
intent  I  have  purposely  interlaced  (not  as  meat,  but  as 
condiment)  many  delightful  stories,  that  so  the  reader  if 
he  do  not  arise  (which  I  hope  and  desire)  Religiosior  or 
Doctior,  with  more  piety  or  learning,  at  least  he  may  depart 
Jucundior,  with  more  pleasure  and  lawful  delight."  * 
Fuller's  Worthies  is  one  of  the  most  humorous  books  ever 
written ;  one  is  richly  rewarded  for  dipping  into  almost  any 
page.  The  volume  was  not  put  together  after  any  scientific 
method  of  research;  it  belongs  to  the  "  old  school  ";  but 
it  preserves  a  vast  amount  of  information  expressed  in  an 
1  In  Preface  to  Biographia  Britannica.  *  Worthies,  p.  2. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       53 

original  manner.  The  literature  of  biography  would  suffer 
a  great  loss  were  it  deprived  of  the  Worthies. 

Fuller  is  "  very  little  concerned  about  dates  or  circum 
stances,"  remarks  Oldys,  and  the  remark  is  just;  he  took 
all  too  little  pains  in  these  particulars.  "  But,"  writes 
Oldys  elsewhere  in  the  Biographia  Britannica,  in  a  vein  not 
unworthy  of  Fuller  himself,  "  though  he  looked  upon  dates 
as  so  many  little  sparkling  gems  in  history,  that  would 
reflect  the  clearest  and  most  sudden  light  a  great  ways  off, 
he  still  found  or  thought  them  very  slippery  ware,  liable, 
by  the  smallest  and  most  imperceptible  variations,  to  lead 
us  greatly  astray  from  truth;  and  speaks  of  chronology  in 
one  of  his  books,  as  of  a  very  surly  little  animal,  that  was 
apt  to  bite  the  fingers  of  those  who  handle  it  with  greater 
familiarity  than  was  absolutely  necessary;  yet  he  knew 
there  was  no  giving  any  satisfactory  intelligence  without  it, 
especially  in  the  writing  of  lives.  But  it  was  a  general  or 
fashionable  neglect  especially  in  the  more  polite  and  ornate 
writers,  as  if  they  thought  that  arithmetical  figures  would 
look  like  so  many  scars  in  the  sleek  face  of  their  rhetorical 
phrase."1  In  1811,  when  John  Nichols  edited  an  edition 
of  Fuller's  Worthies,  he  added  this  note  at  the  point  where 
he  supplied  the  date  of  Shakespeare's  death:  "  It  is  a  little 
remarkable  that  Dr.  Fuller  should  not  have  been  able  to 
have  filled  up  this  blank;  which  I  should  have  done  silently 
(as  I  have  done  in  numberless  other  instances)  but  that  I 
think  it  right  to  notice  how  little  was  then  known  of  the 
personal  history  of  the  Sweet  Swan  of  Avon,  who  died 
April  23.,  1616."  The  omission  of  this  date  by  Fuller  is  a 
sufficient  comment  upon  both  the  state  of  knowledge  during 
the  century  and  the  methods  of  biographical  compilers. 

Fuller's  biographical  works  were  followed  by  many  others 
written  in  English  on  a  somewhat  similar  plan.  Of  these 
1  Article  "  Fuller,"  vol.  iii.  pp.  2049-69. 


54  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

we  can  do  little  more  than  make  brief  mention.  In  1675, 
Edward  Phillips,  Milton's  nephew,  published  Ibeatrum 
Poetarum,  brief  sketches  of  ancient  and  modern  poets. 
William  Winstanley's  Lives  of  English  Poets  followed  in 
1687.  Anthony  Wood's  great  work,  the  Aihenae  Oxonienses, 
"  an  exact  history  of  all  the  writers  and  bishops  who 
have  had  their  education  in  ...  Oxford  .  .  ."  appeared  in 
1690-92.  In  1691  was  printed  Gerard  Langbaine's  English 
Dramatic  Poets,  of  which  work  a  continuation  and  doubtful 
"  improvement  "  was  set  forth  by  Charles  Gildon  in  1698. 
The  seventeenth  century  likewise  produced  a  remarkably 
large  number  of  "  Characters,"  or  brief  sketches  after  the 
manner  of  those  written  by  Theophrastus.  In  the  hands  of 
such  men  as  Ben  Jonson,  Joseph  Hall,  Sir  Thomas  Over- 
bury,  and  John  Earle  the  character-sketch  was  assiduously 
cultivated,  becoming  in  fact  one  of  the  most  distinctive 
and  prolific  literary  forms  of  the  century.  Earle's  Micro- 
cosmography  (1628),  one  of  the  most  popular  collections  of 
such  sketches,  apparently  passed  through  five  editions  in 
the  first  two  years  of  its  publication,  and  five  more  during 
the  life-time  of  its  author.  Dr.  Philip  Bliss,  who  in  1811 
edited  an  edition  of  Earle's  work,  added  a  list  of  fifty-seven 
characters  and  books  of  characters,  all  of  which,  with  one 
exception  in  1567,  were  published  between  1605-1700.  In 
1855,  Doctor  Bliss  stated  that  this  list  in  his  own  inter 
leaved  copy  had  grown  four-fold.  Various  explanations  of 
the  popularity  of  this  form  have  been  given.  It  has  been 
pointed  out  for  us  that  "  the  literature  of  Protestant 
England  passed,  about  the  time  of  James  I.,  from  the 
exuberant  delicious  fancifulness  of  youth  into  the  sober  de- 
liberativeness  of  manhood.  The  age  of  romantic  chivalry,  of 
daring  discovery,  of  surpassing  danger,  was  passing  away. 
A  time  of  wonderful  thoughtfulness,  of  strong  research,  of 
national  quiet  had  come.  Learning  had  become  common  to 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       55 

most  educated  persons.  .  .  .  The  thinkers  influenced  the 
people.  The  words  Precisian  and  Puritan,  creations  of  this 
epoch,  testify  to  the  growing  seriousness  of  the  nation.  In 
those  earlier  years  of  Puritanism  especially,  and  generally 
throughout  the  seventeenth  century,  there  was  a  strong 
passion  for  analysis  of  human  character.  Men  delighted  in 
introspection.  Essays  and  characters  took  the  place  of  the 
romance  of  the  former  century."  l  In  the  opinion  of  Pro 
fessor  Hugh  Walker,  "  if  ever  we  are  entitled  to  speak  of  a 
literary  form  as  answering  to  something  in  the  spirit  of  the 
age  wherein  it  appears,  we  are  so  entitled  in  the  case  of  the 
character- writers.  For  they  are  precisely  the  prose  analogue 
of  the  metaphysical  poets.  They  have  the  same  merits 
and  defects,  they  show  the  same  interests,  and  they  rise, 
flourish,  and  decline  just  at  the  same  time."  2 

The  character-sketches  were,  without  doubt,  one  mani 
festation  of  the  spirit  which  was  aiding  in  the  evolution  of 
biography.  They  were,  however,  but  a  passing  phase  of  the 
spirit,  and  contributed  inappreciably,  if  at  all,  to  the 
development  of  biography.  The  distinction  between  the 
character-sketch  and  biography  has  been  well  emphasised: 
"  In  order  to  establish  the  claim  of  the  Characters  to  be 
considered  as  a  unique  production,  it  is  perhaps  necessary 
to  point  out  that  they  in  no  way  resemble  the  ordinary 
biographies  of  history.  These,  of  course,  have  reference  to 
definite  individuals,  and  must  of  necessity  exhibit  personal 
peculiarities,  which  can  only  belong  to  the  subject  of  the 
intended  portraiture.  The  present  sketches  [those  of 
Theophrastus],  on  the  contrary,  are  generic,  not  individual; 
they  represent  classes,  not  particular  persons;  they  are 
imaginary,  not  real." 3  Another  writer  remarks  that 

1  Arber's  English  Reprints,  Earle's  Micro-cosmographie,  pp.  7-8. 
1  See  all  of  chap.  iii.  of  Professor  Walker's  admirable  volume, 
The  English  Essay  and  Essayists. 

'  John  G.  Sheppard,  Theophrasti  Characters,  pp.  5-6. 


56  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

"  Characters  deal  with  the  passing,  external,  accidental 
aspects  of  men,"  and  points  out  that  of  Earle's  sketches, 
some  are  "  delineations  of  human  nature,  common  to  all 
time;  others  are  incisive  descriptions  of  '  characters  '  and 
scenes  of  the  writer's  age,  which  have  now  passed  away."  * 
We  cannot  dismiss  the  character-sketch,  however,  without 
calling  attention  to  the  manner  in  which  it  eventually 
developed  relations  to  both  biography  and  fiction.  "  The 
type  of  sketch  set  by  Jonson  and  Overbury,"  writes  Pro 
fessor  W.  L.  Cross,  "  was  a  good  deal  modified  by  the  fifty 
and  more  character -writers  who  succeeded  them.  Not 
infrequently  as  a  frame  to  the  portrait  was  added  a  little 
piece  of  biography  or  adventure.  .  .  .  The  treatment  of 
the  character  sketch  by  Steele  and  Addison  in  the  Spectator 
(171 1-12)  was  highly  original.  They  drew  portraits  of  repre 
sentative  Englishmen,  and  brought  them  together  in  con 
versation  in  a  London  Club.  They  conducted  Sir  Roger 
de  Coverley  through  Westminster  Abbey,  to  the  play-house, 
to  Vauxhall,  into  the  country  to  Coverley  and  the  assizes; 
they  incidentally  took  a  retrospective  view  of  his  life,  and 
finally  told  the  story  of  his  death.  When  they  had  done 
this,  they  had  not  only  created  one  of  the  best  defined 
characters  in  our  prose  literature,  but  they  had  almost 
transformed  the  character-sketch  into  a  novel  of  London 
and  commercial  life."  * 

The  biographical  collections,  which  were  so  characteristic 
of  the  seventeenth  century,  stimulated  the  production  of 
many  similar  "  dictionaries  "  in  the  eighteenth  century. 
Although  the  inclusion  of  these  later  works  exceeds  the 
date  limits  of  this  chapter,  logically  mention  of  them 
belongs  here;  for  in  purpose,  spirit,  and  method  they  are 
at  one  with  their  prototypes.  Giles  Jacob's  Poetical 

1  Arber's  English  Reprints,  Earle's  Micro-cosmographie,  p.  9. 
8  Development  of  the  English  Novel,  pp.  24-5. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       57 

Register  (1719  or  1720);  the  Biographia  Britannic  a  (1747- 
66);  the  Lives  of  the  Poets  (1753)  bearing  the  name  of 
Theophilus  Gibber,  but  for  the  most  part  the  work  of 
Robert  Shiels,  a  Scotchman,  one  of  Johnson's  amanuenses 
in  the  Dictionary  work;  Horace  Walpole's  Catalogue  of 
Royal  and  Noble  Authors  (1758);  the  Biographical  Dictionary 
(1761);  David  Erskine  Baker's  Companion  to  the  Play 
house  (1764);  and  Doctor  John  Berkenhout's  Biographia 
Liter  aria  (1777),  make  up  the  contribution  of  the  eigh 
teenth  century  to  this  form  of  biography.  Of  these  works, 
the  Biographia  Britannica  is  by  far  the  best;  it  is  the  first 
work,  indeed,  in  the  English  language,  which  deserves  to 
rank  as  a  careful  and  somewhat  complete  biographical 
dictionary.  It  exhibits  commendable  care  in  its  attempt  to 
exhaust  all  known  sources  of  information.  With  William 
Oldys  as  its  first  editor  it  could  scarcely  fail  to  be  in  advance 
of  its  kind.  It  stands  between  the  old  method  of  careless 
compiling  and  the  new  scientific  spirit  of  the  nineteenth 
century.  At  least  two  literary  men  read  and  studied  it 
eagerly.  Its  volumes  were  the  companions  of  Sir  Egerton 
Brydges  during  his  youth;  he  tells  us  that  he  began  to 
read  them  as  early  as  his  eighth  or  ninth  year.  Macaulay 
wrote  that  on  his  voyage  to  India  in  1834  ^e  read,  among 
other  volumes,  "  the  seven  thick  folios  of  the  Biographia 
Britannica"  x 

The  work  of  these  industrious  compilers  is  related  rather 
to  one  branch  of  biographical  writing — that  of  dictionaries 
of  biography,  a  branch  which  has  developed  and  flourished 
extensively  during  the  nineteenth  and  twentieth  centuries 
— than  to  the  biography  proper,  the  separate,  complete, 
approximately  exhaustive  account  of  one  person.  The 
way  of  the  biographical  collection  is  not  the  way  to  the 
production  of  great  life-narrative;  especially  is  this  true 
1Trevelyan's  Life  of  Macaulay,  vol.  i.  p.  371. 


58  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

of  the  way  of  the  old  biographical  collections.  Some 
have  expressed  regret  that  Thomas  Heywood  (1575  ?-i65o), 
the  dramatist,  did  not  carry  out  the  design  to  which  he 
refers  (p.  245)  in  the  Hierarchy  of  the  Blessed  Angels  (1635) 
of  writing  "  the  lives  of  all  the  poets,  foreign  and  modern, 
from  the  first  before  Homer  to  the  novissimi  and  last,  of 
what  nation  or  language  soever;  so  far  as  any  history  or 
chronology  "  would  give  him  warrant.  His  failure  to  do  so 
has  undoubtedly  left  us  little  the  poorer,  for  in  all  likelihood 
his  work  would  have  been  much  like  those  produced  later 
by  Fuller,  Langbaine,  Gildon,  and  Jacob.  Indeed,  we  can 
form  some  notion  of  what  his  work  might  have  been  from 
a  remark  of  his  in  An  Apology  for  Actors  (1612).  "  Here," 
he  writes,  "  I  might  take  opportunity  to  reckon  up  all  our 
English  writers  and  compare  them  with  the  Greek,  French, 
Italian,  and  Latin  poets,  not  only  in  their  pastoral,  histori 
cal,  elegiacal,  and  heroical  poems,  but  in  their  tragical  and 
comical  subjects,  but  it  was  my  chance  to  happen  on  the 
like  learnedly  done  by  an  approved  good  scholar  in  a  book 
called  Wifs  Commonwealth,  to  which  treatise  I  wholly 
refer  you."  We  may  admit  that  Heywood  might  have 
preserved  something  of  worth,  but  the  way  of  Francis 
Mere's  discourse  in  Palladis  Tamia  l  is  not  the  way  to  the 
production  of  a  promising  biographical  collection.  The 
labour  of  most  of  these  antiquarians  and  compilers  from 
Leland  to  the  writers  of  the  Biographia  Britannica  is  marked 
by  a  confirmed  tendency  to  borrow  and  adapt  blindly  from 
predecessors;  to  hand  on  information  without  careful 
investigation;  to  accept  almost  any  kind  of  hearsay  report. 
It  is  interesting  to  follow  the  sketch  of  one  author  as  it  is 
passed  from  one  of  these  writers  to  another;  such  a  com- 

1  Mere's  "  A  Comparative  Discourse  of  our  English  Poets,  with  the 
Greek,  Latin,  and  Italian  Poets  "  occurs  in  Palladis  Tamia  :  Wit's 
Treasury  ;  Being  the  Second  Part  of  Wit's  Commonwealth,  pp.  279-87. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       59 

parison  will  do  much  to  give  a  student  a  conception  of  the 
value  of  these  primitive  methods.1 

Among  these  antiquarians  and  compilers  one  deserves 
particular  mention  for  his  excellent  conception  of  what 
biography  should  be.  It  is  true  that,  on  account  of  tempera 
mental  reasons,  he  failed  to  carry  out  his  notions,  and 
served  chiefly  as  a  collector  of  information  for  a  hard  and 
ill-natured  taskmaster.  He  had  within  him,  however,  the 
promise  of  better  things.  John  Aubrey  (1626-1697)  was 
one  of  those  happy-go-lucky  individuals  who  give  very 
little  attention  to  their  own  affairs,  yet  attempt  much  to 
oblige  their  friends;  just  the  kind  of  man,  in  fact,  who  is 
his  own  worst  enemy.  Until  he  had  squandered  his  estate, 
he  had  been  an  extensive  and  eager  buyer  of  books  and 
manuscripts.  He  seems  never  to  have  lost  his  interest  in 
literary  affairs,  particularly  in  literary  gossip.  Anthony 
Wood  secured  his  aid  in  collecting  materials  for  the 
Atbenae  Oxonienses,  and  upon  the  work  done  for  Wood, 
Aubrey's  fame  chiefly  rests.  Aubrey's  Brief  Lives,  as  they 
have  been  termed,  are  only  short  and  disconnected  notes 
collected  in  any  way — by  reading,  from  gossip  at  coffee 
houses  and  clubs,  at  the  tables  of  his  literary  friends.  The 
substance  of  them  was  incorporated  in  the  different  editions 
of  the  Atbenae  Oxonienses  (1691-1721),  and  Aubrey's 
manuscripts  were  neglected  until  1813,  when  careless 
extracts  were  published  in  a  collection  of  Letters  Written 
by  Eminent  Persons,  and  Lives  of  Eminent  Men  by  John 
Aubrey  "  from  the  originals  in  the  Bodleian  Library  and 
the  Ashmolean  Museum."  Not  until  1898  was  Aubrey's 
complete  work  made  accessible  to  the  public  in  the  careful 
edition  of  the  Rev.  Andrew  Clark.  "  Aubrey's  lives," 

1  In  the  appendix,  pp.  302-10,  different  sketches  of  Shakespeare 
are  printed  for  the  purpose  of  such  comparison.  Professor  Lounsbury 
and  Eleanor  Prescott  Hammond,  as  has  been  pointed  out,  have 
followed  the  course  of  Chaucer's  early  biographies. 


6o  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

remarks  Mr.  Clark,  "  supply  an  inviting  field  for  comment, 
correction,  and  addition.  But,  even  so  treated,  they  will 
never  be  a  biographical  dictionary.  Their  value  lies  not  in 
statement  of  bibliographical  or  other  facts,  but  in  their 
remarkably  vivid  personal  touches,  in  what  Aubrey  had 
seen  himself  and  what  his  friends  had  told  him."  1 

Two  extracts  from  letters  2  written  by  Aubrey  to  Wood 
give  information  as  to  Aubrey's  own  conception  of  the  work 
he  had  in  hand.  Under  date  of  June  15,  1680,  he  writes: 

"  I  doe  not  here  repeat  anything  already  published  (to  the  best  of 
my  remembrance)  and  I  fancy  myselfe  all  along  discourseing  with 
you;  alledgeing  those  of  my  relations  and  acquaintance  (as  either 
you  knew  or  have  heard  of)  ad  faciendum  fidem  :  so  that  you  make 
me  to  renew  my  acquaintance  with  my  old  and  deceased  friends,  and 
to  rejuvenescent  (as  it  were)  which  is  the  pleasure  of  old  men.  'Tis 
pitty  that  such  minutes  had  not  been  taken  100  yeares  since  or  more: 
for  want  whereof  many  worthy  men's  names  and  notions  are  swal- 
lowd-up  in  oblivion;  as  much  of  these  also  would  [have  been],  had 
it  not  been  through  your  investigation:  and  perhaps  this  is  one  of 
the  usefullest  pieces  that  I  have  scribbeld." 

"  I  remember  one  sayeing  of  generall  Lambert's,  that  '  the  best  of 
men  are  but  men  at  the  best ' :  of  this  you  will  meet  with  divers 
examples  in  this  rude  and  hastie  collection.  Now  these  arcana  are 
not  fitt  to  lett  flie  abroad,  till  about  30  yeares  hence;  for  the  author 
and  the  persons  (like  medlars)  ought  to  be  first  rotten." 

On  September  8,  1680,  he  wrote  further:  "My  book  of 
lives  .  .  .  they  will  be  in  all  about  six-score,  and  I  beleeve 
never  any  in  England  were  delivered  so  faithfully  and  with 
so  good  authority." 

It  becomes  evident  that  Aubrey  recognised  the  value  of 
a  number  of  truths  in  regard  to  biography  which  are  now 
accepted.  He  believed  that  to  be  at  its  best  biography 
should  be  the  work  of  a  contemporary;  that  it  should 
contain  the  personal  element  "  faithfully  and  authorita 
tively  delivered  ";  that  it  should  not  be  panegyric,  making 

1  Aubrey's  "  Brief  Lives"  edited  by  Andrew  Clark,  vol.  i.  pp.  7-8. 
1  Quoted  by  Mr.  Clark  in  Ibid.  vol.  i.  pp.  11-12  and  3,  respectively. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       61 

man  like  unto  a  divinity;  and  that  it  should  be  written 
in  an  interesting  way,  approaching  nearer  to  conversation 
than  to  dry  and  formal  discourse.  Since  he  was  dissipated 
and  unable  to  bring  himself  to  the  completion  of  any 
extensive  connected  literary  work,  his  notions  remained 
embryonic.  It  is  not  difficult  to  imagine,  however,  that, 
given  a  little  more  self-control  and  tenacity  of  purpose,  a 
little  more  of  ability  and  judgment,  Aubrey  might  have 
come  nearer  to  producing  a  genuine  biography  than  any 
man  living  before  Boswell.  Such  imaginings,  though,  are 
futile.  It  is  wiser  to  conclude  that  the  time  for  Boswell  was 
not  yet;  that  when  Boswell  did  arrive,  he  was  the  careful 
student  of  those  who  before  him  had  written  biography,  as 
well  as  the  fortunate  worker  who  produced  a  type  of  the 
true  method  for  which  all  had  been  striving.  It  is  not  to  be 
questioned  that  Aubrey  understood  thekind  of  material  that 
should  make  up  a  biography,  and  that  he,  more  than  any  one 
else  up  to  this  time,  foreshadowed  Johnson  and  Boswell. 

During  the  period  that  the  compilers  of  Latin  biographical 
collections  were  flourishing,  there  were  set  forth,  apparently 
unconnected  with  any  of  the  works  heretofore  mentioned, 
two  narratives  which  may  be  considered  a  beginning  de 
novo,  the  actual  dawn  of  separate,  authentic  biography 
composed  in  the  English  language.  Some  time  before  the 
close  of  Mary's  reign  in  1558,  William  Roper,  the  son-in- 
law  of  Sir  Thomas  More,  sat  down  to  commit  to  writing 
what  he  could  remember  and  gather  from  friends  in  regard 
to  the  distinguished  and  unfortunate  English  Chancellor. 
About  1557,  George  Cavendish,  gentleman-usher  to  Car 
dinal  Wolsey,  likewise  wrote  down  what  he  knew  of  his 
unfortunate  master.  \Both  men  were  in  a  position  to  write 
effective  and  important  narratives;  both  had  great 
subjects  for  the  display  of  their  biographic  skill. 

Roper  states   his   reason   for  writing  in   these   words: 


62  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

"  Forasmuch  as  Sir  Thomas  More,  Knight  .  .  .  was  in  his 
days  accounted  a  man  worthy  perpetual  famous  memory, 
I  William  Roper  (though  most  unworthy)  his  son-in-law 
by  marriage  of  his  eldest  daughter,  knowing,  no  one  man 
that  of  him  and  of  his  doings  understood  so  much  as  myself, 
for  that  I  was  continually  resident  in  his  house  by  the  space 
of  sixteen  years  and  more,  thought  it  therefore  my  part  to 
set  forth  such  matters  touching  his  life  as  I  could  at  this 
present  call  to  remembrance,  among  which  things  very 
many  notable,  not  meet  to  have  been  forgotten,  through 
negligence  and  long  continuance  of  time  are  slipped  out  of 
my  mind.  Yet  to  the  intent  that  the  same  should  not 
all  utterly  perish,  I  have  at  the  desire  of  divers  worship 
ful  friends  of  mine,  though  very  far  from  the  grace  and 
worthiness  of  him,  nevertheless,  as  far  forth  as  my  mean 
wit,  memory,  and  know^dge  would  serve  me,  declared  as 
much  thereof  as  in  my  poor  judgment  seemed  worthy  to 
be  remembered."  1  The  Life  begins  abruptly,  as  if  the  first 
part  had  been  lost.  The  order  is  the  rambling  method  of 
loose  reminiscence;  there  is  nothing  of  coherent  arrange- 
ment  in  the  modern  sense:  in  these  aspects,  however,  the 
work  is  similar  to  most  historical  composition  of  the  time. 
The  author  refers  a  to  letters,  but  does  not  quote  them. 
He  is  likewise  careful  to  give  his  authorities  for  any  informa 
tion  which  he  obtained  through  others.3  The  narrative  is 

1  Edition,  Singer,  1822,  pp.  1-2. 

"  Now  at  his  coming  to  Lambeth,  how  wisely  he  behaved  himself 
before  the  commissioners  at  the  ministration  of  the  oath  unto  him, 
may  be  found  in  certain  letters  of  his  sent  to  my  wife  remaining  in  a 
great  book  of  his  works." — Ibid.  p.  70. 

3  "  Thus  much  touching  Sir  Thomas  More's  arraignment,  being 
not  there  present  myself,  have  I  by  the  credible  report  of  the  Right 
Worshipful  Sir  Anthony  Saintleger,  and  partly  of  Richard  Haywood, 
and  John  Webb,  gentlemen,  with  others  of  good  credit  at  the  hearing 
thereof  present  themselves,  as  far  forth  as  my  poor  wit  and  memory 
would  serve  me,  here  truly  rehearsed  unto  you." — Ibid.  p.  89.  And 
also:  "  Which  matter  was  by  the  same  Sir  Thomas  Eliott  to  myself. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       63 

brief  and  incomplete,  and  of  course  contains  inaccuracies; 
yet  the  stately  simplicity  of  the  style,  the  pathetic  reserve 
of  the  writer,  and  the  atmosphere  of  truth  pervading  all, 
make  it  intensely  interesting  and  mark  it  as  a  work  of 
great  value. 

Cavendish's  Life  of  Cardinal  Wolsey  is  longer  and  more 
elaborate  than  the  More,  yet  otherwise  much  similar  to  the 
work  of  Roper.  Cavendish  begins,  as  does  Roper,  with  a 
statement  of  his  reasons  for  writing:  "  The  occasion  there 
fore  that  maketh  me  to  rehearse  all  these  things  is  this; 
for  as  much  as  I  intend,  God  willing,  to  write  here  some 
part  of  the  proceedings  of  Legate  and  Cardinal  Wolsey, 
Archbishop  of  York,  and  of  his  ascending  and  descending 
from  honourous  estate;  whereof  some  part  shall  be  of 
mine  own  knowledge,  and  some  of  other  person's  informa 
tion.  Forsooth  this  Cardinal  was  my  lord  and  master, 
whom  in  his  life  I  served  and  so  remained  with  him,  after 
his  fall,  continually,  during  the  term  of  all  his  trouble,  until 
he  died;  as  well  in  the  south  as  in  the  north  parts,  and 
noted  all  his  demeanour  and  usage  in  all  that  time;  as  also 
in  his  wealthy  triumph  and  glorious  estate.  And  since  his 
death  I  have  heard  diverse  sundry  surmises  and  imagined 
tales,  made  of  his  proceedings  and  doings,  which  I  myself 
have  perfectly  known  to  be  most  untrue.  .  .  .  Therefore 
I  commit  the  truth  to  Him  who  knoweth  all  things.  For, 
whatsoever  any  man  hath  conceived  in  him  when  he  lived, 
or  since  his  death,  this  much  I  dare  be  bold  to  say  .  .  .  that 
in  my  judgment  I  never  saw  this  realm  in  better  order, 
quietness,  and  obedience,  than  it  was  in  the  time  of  his 
authority  and  rule,  ne  justice  better  administered  with 
indifferency."  1  Cavendish  succeeded  in  writing  a  truly 

to  my  wife,  to  Master  Clement  and  his  wife,  to  Master  John  Hay- 
wood  and  his  wife,  and  unto  divers  others  his  friends  accordingly 
reported." — Ibid.  p.  95. 

1  Life  of  Cardinal  Wolsey,  Edition,  Singer,  1825,  vol.  i.  pp.  2-3. 


64  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

masterful  narrative;  very  far,  to  be  sure,  from  accurate  >/ 
and  scientific  biography,  yet,  for  all  that,  a  record  that 
holds  the  attention  and  leaves  the  reader  with  a  vivid 
impression  of  the  great  Cardinal.  "  It  is,"  observes  Singer, 
"  a  work  without  pretension,  but  full  of  natural  eloquence, 
devoid  of  the  formality  of  a  set  rhetorical  composition, 
unspoiled  by  the  affectation  of  that  classical  manner  in 
which  all  biography  and  history  of  old  time  was  prescribed 
to  be  written,  and  which  often  divests  such  records  of  the 
attraction  to  be  found  in  the  conversational  stvle  of 
Cavendish.  There  is  an  unspeakablecharm  in  the  naivete 
of  his  language — his  occasional  appeals  to  his  reader — and 
the  dramatic  form  of  his  narration,  in  which  he  gives  the 
very  words  of  the  interlocutors,  and  a  lively  picture  of  their 
actions,  making  us  as  it  were  spectators  of  the  scenes  he 
described.  Indeed,  our  great  poet  has  literally  followed  him 
in  several  passages  of  his  King  Henry  Fill.,  merely  putting 
his  language  into  verse."  1 

Cavendish  "  imparts  to  his  pages, "  writes  Charles 
Whibley,  "  a  sense  of  reality  which  only  a  partaker  of 
Wolsey's  fortunes  could  impart.  But  he  was  not  a  Boswell, 
attempting  to  produce  a  large  effect  by  a  multiplicity  of 
details.  His  book  has  a  definite  plan  and  purpose.  Con- 
sciously  or  unconsciously,  Cavendish  was  an  artist.  His 
theme  is  the  theme  of  many  a  Greek  tragedy,  and  he 
handles  it  with  Greek  austerity.  He  sets  out  to  show  how 
Nemesis  descends  upon  the  haughty  and  overbold,  how 
the  mighty  are  suddenly  cast  down  from  their  seats,  how 
the  hair-shirt  lurks  ever  beneath  the  scarlet  robes  of  the 
cardinal.  This  is  the  confessed  end  and  aim  of  his  work. 
He  is  not  compiling  a  *  life  and  times.'  He  discards  as 
irrelevant  many  events  which  seem  important  in  the  eye 
of  history.  The  famous  words  which  he  puts  in  the  mouth 
1  Life  of  Wolsey,  vol.  i.  p.  xi. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       65 

of  Wolsey  dying  might  serve  as  a  text  for  the  whole  work: 
*  If  I  had  served  God  as  diligently  as  I  have  done  the  king, 
he  would  not  have  given  me  over  in  my  grey  hairs.'  "  1 

It  is  interesting  to  observe  that  Cavendish  had  an 
excellent  conception  of  certain  duties  of  a  biographer. 
Not  only  does  he  treat  of  Cardinal  Wolsey's  life  from  birth 
to  death,  with  greatest  emphasis  upon  the  political  part  of 
his  life;  he  also  shows  an  appreciation  of  the  difference 
between  biographical  and  historical  narration,  as  well  as 
of  the  connexion  between  the  two.2  It  is,  however,  of  the 
moralising  element  that  the  reader  carries  away  from  the 
Life  the  most  vivid  impressions.  With  however  much  of 
"  honest  indignation  "  Cavendish  sat  down  "  to  vindicate 
Cardinal  Wolsey  from  slander,"  he  did  not  allow  his 
indignation  to  blind  him  to  the  Cardinal's  faults;  but  as  a 
moralist  Cavendish  stood  forth  openly.  The  element  runs 
through  the  Life  from  beginning  to  end,8  the  closing  para 
graph  proceeding  in  this  way : 

"  Who  list  to  read  and  consider,  with  an  indifferent  eye,  this 
history,  may  behold  the  wondrous  mutability;  the  uncertainty  of 
dignities,  the  flattering  of  feigned  friends,  and  the  tickle  trust  to 
worldly  princes.  Whereof  this  lord  cardinal  hath  felt  both  of  the 
sweet  and  the  sour  in  each  degree;  as  fleeting  from  honours,  losing  of 
riches,  deposed  from  dignities,  forsaken  of  friends,  and  the  incon- 
stantness  of  princes'  favour;  of  all  which  things  he  hath  had  in  this 

1  Cambridge  History  of  English  Literature,  vol.  iii.  p.  336. 

*  Thus:  "  I  omit  and  leave  the  circumstances  thereof  to  historio 
graphers  of  chronicles  of  princes,  the  which  is  no  part  of  mine  intend- 
ment." — Singer's  Wolsey,  p.  17.  Also:  "  I  have  written  thus  this 
history  [of  the  siege  of  Pavia,  etc.]  at  large  because  it  was  thought 
that  the  Cardinal  gave  the  chief  occasion  for  all  this  mischief." 
—Ibid.  p.  80. 

8  These  samples  may  suffice:  "  Now  may  this  be  a  good  example 
and  precedent  to  men  in  authority  .  .  .  how  authority  may  decay." 
— Edition,  Singer,  1825,  p.  7.  "  Here  may  all  men  note  the  chances  of 
fortune"  (p.  15).  "  .  .  .  but  to  what  end  she  [Fortune]  brought  him, 
ye  shall  hear  after  "  (p.  20).  "  Until  Fortune  began  to  wax  something 
wroth  with  his  prosperous  estate"  (p.  55).  "  But  ye  may  see  when 
fortune  beginneth  to  lower  "  (p.  66). 

E 


66  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

world  the  full  felicity,  as  long  as  fortune  smiled  upon  him :  but  when 
she  began  to  frown,  how  soon  was  he  deprived  of  all  those  dreaming 
joys  and  vain  pleasures.  The  which  in  twenty  years  with  great 
travail,  study,  and  pains,  obtained,  were  in  one  year  and  less,  with 
heaviness,  care,  and  sorrow,  lost  and  consumed.  O  madness!  O 
foolish  desire !  O  fond  hope !  O  greedy  desire  of  vain  honours,  digni 
ties  and  riches !  O  what  inconstant  trust  and  assurance  is  in  rolling 
fortune  !  Wherefore  the  prophet  said  full  well  Thesaurizat,  et 
ignorat,  cui  congregabit  ea.  Who  is  certain  to  whom  he  shall  leave  his 
treasure  and  his  riches  that  he  hath  gathered  together  in  this  world, 
it  may  chance  him  to  leave  it  unto  such  as  he  hath  purposed  ?  but 
the  wise  man  saith,  That  another  person,  who  peradventure  he  hated  in 
his  life,  shall  spend  it  out  and  consume  it."  l 

Whatever  influence  these  two  narratives  might  have  had 
upon  the  general  development  of  biography  was  prevented 
by  the  fact  that  for  many  years  they  were  circulated  only 
in  manuscript.  Both  were  strongly  Catholic  in  spirit,  and 
of  course  had  to  await  favourable  moments  for  publication. 
The  first  edition  of  The  Mirror  of  Vertue  in  Worldly  Great 
ness  :  or,  the  Life  of  Sir  Thomas  More  has  on  the  title-page 
the  date  of  Paris,  1626,  although  Singer  suggests  that  it 
was  probably  printed  in  England.2  Likewise,  Cavendish's 
Life  of  Wolsey  remained  in  manuscript  until  1641,  when 
it  was  first  published  in  mutilated  form  for  party  purposes.3 
Not  until  1893,  when  the  Kelmscott  edition  was  printed 

1  Singer's  Wolsey,  vol.  i.  pp.  335-6. 

1  "  It  was  then  not  uncommon  for  books  which  favoured  Catholic 
doctrines  to  have  a  foreign  imprint,  even  when  not  printed  abroad." 
— Singer's  Move  (1822),  p.  vi.  "  It  has  been  remarked  by  Hunter  that 
More's  life  and  works  have  been  all  along  manipulated  for  political 
purposes,  and  in  the  interest  of  the  Holy  See." — Encyclopedia 
Britannica,  Article  "  Sir  Thomas  More."  A  consideration  of  the 
different  lives  of  More  in  chronological  order  makes  an  interesting 
study  in  biography. 

3  From  a  letter  in  the  Bodleian  Library  written  by  Edmund 
Mai  one  to  Francis  Douce  (Nov.  24,  1809),  I  quote  the  following: 
"  The  first  edition  of  the  Life  of  Wolsey  (4to.  1641)  is  before  me,  and 
is  entitled  the  '  Negotiations  of  T.  W.,  etc.'  The  second  edition 
(in  1667)  is  called  '  The  Life  and  Death,  etc.'  and  the  third  in  1706 
is  entitled  '  Memoirs  of  the  great  favourite  Cardinal  Wolsey,  etc.' 
They  are  all  basely  sophisticated  and  interpolated,  originally  in 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       67 

by  William  Morris  from  F.  S.  Ellis'  transcript  of  the 
autograph  copy  in  the  British  Museum,  did  the  public 
have  access  to  the  book  in  the  original  text.  The  long  delay 
in  the  publication  of  these  works  retarded  the  development 
of  biography  proper  for  almost  a  century,  and  the  limited 
circulation  of  the  books  when  first  published  retarded  it 
still  longer. 

Not  long  after  Roper  and  Cavendish  had  written  their 
narratives,  Francis  Bacon  in  his  Advancement  of  Learning 
(1605)  lamented  the  scarcity  of  "  lives  "  in  these  words: 

"  For  '  Lives,'  I  do  find  strange  that  these  times  have  so  little 
esteemed  the  virtues  of  the  times,  as  that  the  writing  of  lives  be  no 
more  frequent.  For  although  there  be  not  many  sovereign  princes 
or  absolute  commanders,  and  that  states  are  most  collected  into 
monarchies,  yet  are  there  many  worthy  personages  that  deserve 
better  than  dispersed  report  or  barren  eulogies.  For  herein  the 
invention  of  one  of  the  late  poets  is  proper,  and  doth  well  enrich  the 
ancient  fiction :  for  he  f eigneth  that  at  the  end  of  the  thread  or  web 
of  every  man's  life  there  was  a  little  medal  containing  the  person's 
name,  and  that  Time  waited  upon  the  shears;  and  as  soon  as  the 
thread  was  cut,  caught  the  medals,  and  carried  them  to  the  river  of 
Lethe;  and  about  the  bank  there  were  many  birds  flying  up  and 
down,  that  would  get  the  medals  and  carry  them  in  their  beak  a 
little  while,  and  then  let  them  fall  into  the  river:  only  there  were  a 
few  swans  which  if  they  got  a  name  would  carry  it  to  a  temple  where 
it  was  consecrated."  l 

Bacon,  it  will  be  remembered,  in  this  same  work,  divides 
History  into  three  kinds;  viz.,  that  which  represents  a  time, 
or  a  person,  or  an  action.  To  the  first  he  gave  the  name 
of  Chronicles;  to  the  second,  Lives;  to  the  third,  Narra 
tions  or  Relations.  Notwithstanding  the  fact  that  he  had 
not  come  to  a  conception  of  biography  as  a  form  of  litera- 

1641  for  the  purpose  of  raising  a  clamour  against  the  dignitaries  of 
the  Church,  and  thus  obliquely  wounding  Archbishop  Laud."  For 
interesting  discussion  of  the  history  of  Cavendish's  work,  see  Singer's 
Life  of  Wolsey  (1825),  vol.  ii.  pp.  xiii-lxxii.  See  also  Introduction  to 
Storer's  Metrical  Life  of  Wolsey,  Oxford,  1826. 
1  Edition,  William  Pickering,  1825,  pp.  132-3. 


68  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

ture  dissociated  from  history,  he  yet  made  some  valuable 
observations  and  pointed  the  way  for  the  future.  In  con 
sidering  the  three  divisions,  he  wrote  thus :  "  Of  these, 
although  the  first  be  the  most  complete  and  absolute  kind 
of  history,  and  hath  most  estimation  and  glory,  yet  the 
second  excelleth  it  in  profit  and  use,  and  the  third  in  verity 
and  sincerity:  for  history  of  times  representeth  the  magni 
tude  of  actions,  and  the  public  faces  and  deportments  of 
persons,  and  passeth  over  in  silence  the  smaller  passages 
and  motions  of  men  and  matters.  .  .  .  But  Lives,  if  they  be 
well  written,  propounding  to  themselves  a  person  to  repre 
sent,  in  whom  actions  both  greater  and  smaller,  public  and 
private,  have  a  commixture,  must  of  necessity  contain  a 
more  true,  native,  and  lively  representation."  1  Bacon  was 
familiar  with  Plutarch's  Lives,  which  a  short  time  before 
(1579)  became  accessible  to  Englishmen  through  North's 
translation.  The  work  of  Plutarch  no  doubt  set  him  to 
thinking  and  caused  him  to  wish  that  a  similar  work  might 
be  produced  in  England.  The  confounding  of  history  and 
biography,  however,  prevented  any  rapid  or  marked  develop 
ment  of  the  latter.  Writing  almost  eighty  years  later  John 
Dryden  exhibits  much  the  same  conception  of  biography  as 
does  Bacon,  and,  like  Bacon,  continues  to  consider  it  as  only 
a  branch  of  history.  Dr.  White  Kennet's  History  of  England, 
published  in  1706,  consists  of  a  series  of  lives  by  different 
authors,  and  well  illustrates  the  habit  of  making  biographical 
narrative  serve  the  purposes  of  history.2  It  was  reserved 
for  the  eighteenth  century  to  free  biography  from  the 
trammels  of  history  proper. 

1  Edition,  Pickering,  1825,  pp.  127-8. 

8  Such  representative  works  from  the  History  of  England  may  be 
taken  as  examples :  The  Lives  of  King  Edward  V.  and  Richard  III. 
by  Sir  Thomas  More  ;  The  Life  of  King  Henry  VII.  by  Lord  Bacon ; 
The  Life  of  King  Edward  VI.  by  Sir  John  Hayward;  The  History  of 
Queen  Elizabeth  by  William  Cambden;  and  The  History  and  Life  of 
King  Charles  I.  (anonymous). 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       69 

We  come  now  to  charming  old  Izaak  Walton,  the  first  to 
take  in  hand  the  writing  of  deliberate  biography.  As  he 
frequently  tells  us,  circumstances  forced  him  to  take  up  the 
biographer's  pen;  and,  with  sweet  humility,  he  again  and 
again  expresses  the  wish  that  in  doing  so  he  "  has  pre 
vented  no  abler  person  "  from  undertaking  the  task.  Five 
biographical  sketches — three  of  his  own  intimate  friends, 
and  two  of  those  not  personally  known  to  him — make  up  the 
sum  of  his  contribution.  His  first  work  was  the  Life  of 
Doctor  Donne,  prefixed  to  the  first  collection  of  Donne's 
sermons  in  1640.  In  the  introduction  to  the  Life,  Walton 
tells  us  that  when  he  heard  that  the  sermons  of  his  friend 
were  to  be  printed  without  the  author's  life,  "  indignation 
or  grief — indeed  I  know  not  which — transported  me  so  far, 
that  I  reviewed  my  forsaken  collections  [notes  made  for 
Sir  Henry  Wotton,  who  had  contemplated  writing  a  life 
of  Donne],  and  resolved  the  world  should  see  the  best  plain 
picture  of  the  author's  life,  that  my  artless  pencil,  guided 
by  the  hand  of  truth,  could  present  to  it."  l 

Eleven  years  later — in  1651 — he  turned  once  again  to 
biography,  this  time  writing  the  Life  of  his  friend  Sir  Henry 
Wotton.  In  1665  appeared  the  Life  of  Richard  Hooker,  and 
in  1670  the  Life  of  George  Herbert,  neither  of  whom  Walton 
knew  personally.  Walton  was  now  an  old  man — he  was 
seventy  in  1663 — and  thus  three  of  the  five  biographies  are 
the  products  of  his  old  age.  The  labour  of  collecting 
material  and  of  composing  bore  heavily  upon  him  at  times, 
and  especially  during  his  work  upon  the  Life  of  his  old 
friend  Dr.  Robert  Sanderson,  which  appeared  in  1678,  in  the 
author's  eighty-fifth  year.  Nothing  could  be  more  delightful 
than  the  introduction  to  the  Life  of  George  Herbert,  in  which 
Walton  records  how  in  "  a  late  retreat  from  the  business  of 
this  world,  and  those  many  little  cares  with  which  he  had 
1  Major's  Edition  of  the  Lives  (1825),  p.  i. 


70  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

too  often  encumbered  himself,  he  fell  into  a  contemplation 
of  some  of  those  historic  passages  that  are  recorded  in  sacred 
story:  and  more  particularly  of  what  had  passed  between 
our  blessed  Saviour,  and  that  wonder  of  women  and  sinners, 
and  mourners,  Saint  Mary  Magdalene."  This  contemplation 
led  him  to  a  consideration  of  the  fact  that  Mary's  free 
offerings  had  won  for  her  record  and  mention  "  wheresoever 
his  Gospel  should  be  read,  so  that  her  name  should  live  to 
succeeding  generations,  even  till  time  itself  shall  be  no 
more."  "  Upon  occasion  of  which  fair  example,"  writes 
Walton,  "  I  did  lately  look  back,  and  not  without  some 
content — at  least  to  myself — that  I  have  endeavoured  to 
deserve  the  love,  and  preserve  the  memory,  of  my  two 
deceased  friends,  Dr.  Donne  and  Sir  Henry  Wotton,  by 
declaring  the  several  employments  and  various  accidents  of 
their  lives.  And  though  Mr.  George  Herbert — whose  life  I 
now  intend  to  write — were  to  me  a  stranger  as  to  his  person, 
for  I  have  only  seen  him:  yet  since  he  was,  and  was 
worthy  to  be,  their  friend,  and  very  many  of  his  have  been 
mine,  I  judge  it  may  not  be  unacceptable  to  those  that  knew 
any  of  them  in  their  lives,  or  do  now  know  them  by  mine,  or 
their  own  writings,  to  see  this  conjunction  of  them  after 
their  deaths;  without  which,  many  things  that  concerned 
them,  and  some  things  that  concerned  the  age  in  which  they 
lived,  would  be  less  perfect,  and  lost  to  posterity."  *  A 
dozen  years  later,  Mary's  experience  was  yet  running  in  his 
mind,  for  in  the  preface  to  the  Life  of  Dr.  Sanderson  he  says: 
"  For  it  may  be  noted  that  our  Saviour  hath  had  such  care, 
that,  for  Mary  Magdalene's  kindness  to  him,  her  name 
should  never  be  forgotten:  and  doubtless  Dr.  Sanderson's 
meek  and  innocent  life,  his  great  and  useful  learning,  might 
therefore  challenge  the  like  endeavours  to  preserve  his 
memory :  and  'tis  to  me  a  wonder  that  it  has  been  already 
1  Lives  (1825),  p.  272. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH        71 

fifteen  years  neglected.  But  in  saying  this  my  meaning  is  not 
to  upbraid  others — I  am  far  from  that — but  excuse  myself, 
or  beg  pardon  for  daring  to  attempt  it.  ...  And  though 
my  age  might  have  procured  me  a  Writ  of  Ease,  and  that 
secured  me  from  all  further  trouble  in  this  kind;  yet  I  met 
with  such  persuasion  to  begin,  and  so  many  willing  in 
formers  since,  and  from  them  and  others,  such  helps  and 
encouragements  to  proceed,  that  when  I  found  myself 
faint,  and  weary  of  the  burthen  with  which  I  had  loaden 
myself,  and  ready  to  lay  it  down;  yet  time  and  new  strength 
hath  at  last  brought  it  to  be  what  it  now  is."  l  Walton 
closed  the  Life  of  Dr.  Sanderson,  and  his  own  biographical 
labours,  with  these  words :  "  'Tis  now  too  late  to  wish  that 
my  life  may  be  like  his:  for  I  am  in  the  eighty-fifth  year 
of  my  age:  but  I  humbly  beseech  Almighty  God  that  my 
death  may;  and  do  as  earnestly  beg  of  every  reader,  to 
say — Amen." 

Walton  was  a  pioneer  in  biographical  work,  and  as  a 
pioneer  he  proceeded.  "  The  five  short  lives  which  he 
published,  though  pale  by  the -side  of  such  work  in  bio 
graphy  as  the  end  of  the  eighteenth  century  introduced, 
are  yet  notable  as  among  the  earliest  which  aim  at  giving 
us  a  vivid  portrait  of  the  man,  instead  of  a  discreet  and 
conventional  testimonial."  2  Nothing  at  all  similar  to  his 
Lives  had  been  produced  in  English  before  his  time,  save 
Roper's  More  and  Cavendish's  Wolsey,  and  these  he  may 
never  have  seen;  they  are  not  included  in  the  list  of  books 
with  which  he  was  familiar.8  His  work  is  his  own  and  shows 
little  dependence  on  the  method  of  any  other  writer  of 
biography.  He  does  not  say  whether  he  was  influenced  in 
his  order  of  proceeding  by  any  author;  he  was  acquainted 
with  Plutarch's  Lives  which  he  mentions  not  only  in  the 

1  Lives  (1825),  pp.  352-3. 

1  Edmund  Gosse,  in  Craik's  English  Prose,  vol.  ii.  p.  341. 

•  Given  in  Major's  Lives,  pp.  443-6. 


72  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

five  biographical  sketches,  but  also  in  The  Compleat  Angler. 
A  careful  reader  can  discern  in  his  method  of  making 
digressions,  as  well  as  in  his  method  of  making  transitions, 
the  influence  of  Plutarch;  yet  the  influence  is  but  a  faint 
shadow.  For  example,  in  the  Life  of  Donne,  Walton,  after 
telling  the  story  of  Donne's  vision  of  his  wife  and  child, 
proceeds  very  much  in  the  manner  of  Plutarch:  "  This  is  a 
relation  that  will  beget  some  wonder,  and  it  well  may  .  .  . 
yet  many  will  not  believe  there  is  any  such  thing  as  a 
sympathy  of  souls;  and  I  am  well  pleased  that  every 
reader  do  enjoy  his  own  opinion.  But  if  the  unbelieving 
will  not  allow  the  believing  reader  of  this  story  a  liberty  to 
believe  that  it  may  be  true,  then  I  wish  him  to  consider, 
many  wise  men  have  believed  that  the  ghost  of  Julius 
Caesar  did  appear  to  Brutus,  and  that  both  St.  Austin,  and 
Monica  his  mother,  had  visions  in  order  to  his  conversion 
.  .  .  the  incredible  reader  may  find  in  the  sacred  story 
that  Samuel  did  appear  to  Saul  even  after  his  death  .  .  . 
and  Bildad,  in  the  book  of  Job,  says  these  words :  '  A 
spirit  passed  before  my  face;  the  hair  of  my  head  stood 
up;  fear  and  trembling  came  upon  me,  and  made  all  my 
bones  to  shake.'  Upon  which  words  I  will  make  no  com 
ment,  but  leave  them  to  be  considered  by  the  incredulous 
reader.  .  .  ."  1  Walton  was  thoroughly  steeped  in  the 
Scriptures  and  the  writings  of  the  Church  Fathers,  and  in 
all  his  works  makes  numerous  references  to  both. 

1  In  Major's  Lives,  pp.  25-6.  With  this  passage  it  is  interesting  to 
compare  one  from  Plutarch:  "  And  so  if  any  credit  may  be  given 
to  these  instances,  why  should  we  judge  it  incongruous  that  a  like 
spirit  of  the  gods  should  visit  Zaleucus,  Minos,  Zoroaster,  Lycur- 
gus,  and  Numa,  the  controllers  of  kingdoms  and  the  legislators  for 
commonwealths?  Nay,  it  may  be  reasonable  to  believe,  that  the 
gods,  with  a  serious  purpose,  assist  at  the  councils  and  serious 
debates  of  such  men,  to  inspire  and  direct  them;  and  visit  poets 
and  musicians,  if  at  all,  in  their  more  sportive  moods;  but  for 
difference  of  opinion  here,  as  Bacchylides  said, '  the  road  is  broad.'  " 
— Plutarch's  Lives,  Everyman's  Library,  vol.  i.  p.  95. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       73 

It  could  not  be  otherwise  than  that  the  Lives,  under 
taken  as  they  were  in  such  a  period  and  by  such  a  man  as 
Walton,  should  follow  the  old-fashioned  plan  of  taking 
what  could  be  had  easily:  from  his  own  memory,  from 
accounts  given  by  friends  and  relatives,  from  such  docu 
ments  as  came  readily  to  hand.  There  is  in  them  nothing  of 
the  careful  research  method  of  later  times.  A  limited  use 
of  letters  and  wills  is  made — Mr.  Gosse  suggests  that  to 
Walton  "  we  owe  the  idea  of  illustrating  and  developing 
biography  by  means  of  correspondence " — these  being 
inserted  wherever  came  most  convenient;  it  is  Walton's 
custom  usually  to  append  poetical  tributes  and  illustrative 
documents.  There  is  evident  throughout  the  five  sketches 
an  appreciation  of  the  personal  anecdote  which  throws 
light  on  individual  qualities.  There  is,  also,  especially  in 
the  Life  of  Wotton,  a  union  of  history  with  biography,  and 
a  care  for  the  subordination  of  the  historical  narrative. 

It  is  noticeable  that  the  five  sketches  deal  with  men 
prominent  in  Church  and  State.1  As  yet,  no  man  who 
devoted  himself  wholly  to  literature  had  been  made  the 
subject  of  such  extended  biographical  narrative.  Note 
worthy,  too,  is  the  fact  that  Walton  writes  entirely  in  a 
vein  of  panegyric;  by  nature,  he  wishes  to  condone — to 
forgive  and  to  forget.  "  Without  doubt,"  says  Mr.  Gosse, 
"  his  incorrigible  optimism  entered  into  his  study  of  the 
character  of  his  friends,  and  it  is  no  part  of  his  inexperience 
as  a  portrait-painter  that  he  mixes  nis  colours  with  so  much 
rose-water.  He  saw  his  distinguished  acquaintances  in  that 
light;  he  saw  them  pure,  radiant,  and  stately  beyond  a 
mortal  guise,  and  he  could  not  be  true  to  himself  unless  he 
gave  them  the  superhuman  graces  at  which  we  may  now 

1  "  Alike  irresistible  in  the  excellence  of  their  tendencies,  the  one 
[The  Compleat  Angler]  might  be  characterised  as  the  Ritual  of  the 
Fields;  the  other  [the  Lives}  the  Book  of  the  Church."—  Major'sL»v«, 
p.  iii. 


74  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

smile  a  little."  l  How  like  him  is  this  passage:  "  It  was  said 
that  the  accusation  was  contrived  by  a  dissenting  brother, 
one  that  endured  not  church  ceremonies,  hating  him  for 
his  book's  sake,  which  he  was  not  able  to  answer :  and  his 
name  hath  been  told  me;  but  I  have  not  so  much  con 
fidence  in  the  relation  as  to  make  my  pen  fix  a  scandal  on 
him  to  posterity;  I  shall  rather  leave  it  doubtful  to  the 
great  day  of  revelation."  2  The  biographies  are  in  no  sense 
complete  from  the  point  of  view  of  mere  information:  they 
are  but  delightful  miniatures  by  a  charming  writer,  who 
more  truly  exhibits  himself  than  those  of  whom  he  is 
writing.  "  Indeed,"  remarks  Professor  Raleigh,  "  Walton's 
Lives  are  almost  too  perfect  to  serve  as  models.  They  are 
obituary  poems ;  each  of  them  has  the  unity  and  the  melody 
of  a  song  or  sonnet;  they  deal  with  no  problems,  but  sing 
the  praises  of  obscure  beneficence  and  a  mind  that  seeks 
its  happiness  in  the  shade."  3  We  are  not  surprised  that 
Wordsworth  enshrined  them  in  a  sonnet  which  cannot  be 
omitted  in  a  tribute  to  Walton: 

"  There  are  no  colours  in  the  fairest  sky 
So  fair  as  these.   The  feather,  whence  the  pen 
Was  shaped  that  traced  the  lives  of  these  good  men, 
Dropped  from  an  Angel's  wing.    With  moistened  eye 
We  read  of  faith  and  purest  charity 
In  Statesman,  Priest,  and  humble  Citizen: 
Oh  could  we  copy  their  mild  virtues,  then 
What  joy  to  live,  what  blessedness  to  die! 
Methinks  their  very  names  shine  still  and  bright; 
Apart — like  glow-worms  on  a  summer  night; 
Or  lonely  tapers  when  from  far  they  fling 
A  guiding  ray;   or  seen — like  stars  on  high, 
Satellites  burning  in  a  lucid  ring 
Around  meek  Walton's  heavenly  memory."  * 

1  In  Craik's  English  Prose,  vol.  ii.  p.  341. 

2  Major's  Lives  (Hooker),  pp.  238-9. 

3  Six  Essays  on  Johnson,  pp.  103-4. 

4  Ecclesiastical  Sonnets,  III.  v. 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH        75 

The  Lives  possess  a  value  far  and  away  beyond  their  con 
tribution  to  the  development  of  English  biography;  they 
are  in  themselves  classics.  They  are  just  what  we  should 
expect  from  the  author  of  The  Compleat  Angler.  To  digress 
with  Walton  is  a  pleasure  that  no  reader  should  forego.1 

It  was  long  before  English  biography  changed  much 
from  Walton's  method.  Samuel  Johnson  followed  him 
closely  in  plan,  cutting  away,  however,  from  panegyric, 
and  adding  literary  criticism.  It  must  be  remarked  that 
Walton,  too,  made  observations,  though  slight,  upon 
the  writings  of  those  whose  lives  he  narrated.  Walton's 
were  the  first  biographical  narratives  to  grip  the  attention 
of  the  public.  Between  1670  and  1675  four  editions  of  the 
Lives  (Donne,  Wotton,  Hooker,  and  Herbert),  collected  in 
one  volume,  appeared.  After  1678  the  Life  of  Sanderson 
was  added  to  the  collection,  and  the  five  lives  became  "  the 
forerunners  of  a  whole  class  of  English  literature." 

The  excellent  advance  made  by  Walton  was  not  un 
attended  by  contemporaneous  retarding  influences.  One  of 
the  chief  of  these  influences  was  that  exerted  by  the  senti 
ments  set  forth  by  Thomas  Sprat  in  An  Account  of  the  Life 
and  Writings  of  Mr.  Abraham  Cowley,  prefixed  to  an 
edition  of  Cowley's  Works  in  1668.  In  this  Account^  Sprat 
succeeded  in  doing  two  things;  he  confirmed  and  continued 
the  habit  of  making  biography  panegyric  a  in  character, 
and  he,  for  a  time,  delayed  the  just  rising  custom  of  using 
familiar  correspondence  to  elucidate  character.  Doctor 
Johnson  was  constrained  to  say  in  regard  to  the  element  of 

1 "  Then  he  [Plutarch]  was  more  happy  in  his  digressions  than 
any  we  have  named.  I  have  always  been  pleased  to  see  him,  and  his 
imitator  Montaigne,  when  they  strike  a  little  out  of  the  common 
road ;  for  we  are  sure  to  be  the  better  for  their  wandering." — Dryden, 
Life  of  Plutarch.  This  is  another  bit  of  evidence  that  may  be  remem 
bered  in  connexion  with  Plutarch's  influence  on  Walton. 

1  Sprat  believed  Cowley's  life  to  be  "  beneficial  for  example." 
"  This,  Sir,"  he  wrote  in  the  Account,  "  was  the  principal  end  of  this 
long  discourse." 


76  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

panegyric  that  Sprat  "  has  produced  a  funeral  oration 
rather  than  a  history :  he  has  given  the  character,  not  the  life 
of  Cowley;  for  he  writes  with  so  little  detail  that  scarcely 
anything  is  distinctly  known,  but  all  is  shown  confused  and 
enlarged  through  the  mist  of  panegyric.'* l  Against  the  using 
of  private  letters — a  practice  foreshadowed  by  William  Roper 
and  first  begun  by  Izaak  Walton — Sprat  set  himself  firmly. 
He  admits  the  excellence  of  the  prose  in  Cowley's  letters: 
"  In  these,"  writes  Sprat,  "  he  always  expressed  the  native 
tenderness,  and  innocent  gayety  of  his  mind.  .  .  .  But  I 
know  you  [he  addresses  the  Account  to  Martin  Clifford] 
agree  with  me,  that  nothing  of  this  nature  should  be 
published.  .  .  .  The  truth  is,  the  letters  that  pass  between 
particular  friends,  if  they  are  written  as  they  ought  to  be, 
can  scarce  ever  be  fit  to  see  the  light.  They  should  not  con 
sist  of  fulsome  compliments,  or  tedious  politics,  or  elaborate 
elegancies,  or  general  fancies,  but  they  should  have  a 
native  clearness  and  shortness,  a  domestical  plainness,  and 
a  peculiar  kind  of  familiarity,  which  can  only  affect  the 
humour  of  those  to  whom  they  were  intended.  The  very 
same  passages  which  make  writings  of  this  nature  delight 
ful  amongst  friends,  will  lose  all  manner  of  taste,  when  they 
come  to  be  read  by  those  that  are  indifferent.  In  such 
letters  the  souls  of  men  should  appear  undressed:  and  in 
that  negligent  habit,  they  may  be  fit  to  be  seen  by  one  or 
two  in  a  chamber,  but  not  to  go  abroad  into  the  streets. " 
This  is  enough  of  quotation  to  prove  that,  measured  by 
later  standards  of  biography,  Sprat  was  a  hopeless  incom 
petent.  Nevertheless,  at  the  time,  his  influence  was  great — 
Doctor  Johnson  refers  to  him  as  "  an  author  whose 
pregnancy  of  imagination,  and  elegance  of  language  have 
deservedly  set  him  high  in  the  ranks  of  literature  " — and 

1  Lives  of  the  Poets  (Cowley).  By  "  a  character,"  Johnson  meant  a 
panegyric,  or  "  a  collection  of  vague  impressions  of  personality"; 
by  "  a  life,"  he  meant  "  a  strict  biographic  record." 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       77 

not  for  more  than  a  century  was  the  private  letter  used  as  an 
important  and  invaluable  element  in  biography. 

Up  to  this  point,  the  term  biography  has  been  used  in 
referring  to  such  narratives  as  have  thus  far  been  written. 
It  is  now  time  to  call  attention  to  the  fact  that,  so  far  as 
has  been  traced,  the  word  biographia  was  first  employed  in 
England  in  the  year  1683. l  In  applying  the  term  biography, 
therefore,  to  narratives  written  before  1683,  we  must 
remember  that  any  such  use  of  the  word  is  out  of  deference 
to  custom.  Prior  to  the  publication  of  Boswell's  Life  of 
Johnson  in  1791  —  Mason's  Gray  might  be  excepted — 
there  existed  in  the  English  language  only  biographical 
sketches  —  "  lives,"  "  characters,"  "  criticisms,"  as  they 
were  variously  called.  In  1683  there  was  published  the 
translation  of  Plutarch's  Lives  which  is  commonly  known 
as  Dryden's.  To  this  translation  Dryden  contributed  the 
dedication  and  a  "  Life  "  of  Plutarch,  which  "  Life,"  after 
Bacon's  remarks  already  given,  continues  the  critical 
literature  of  English  biography.  Somewhat  in  the  manner 
of  Bacon,  Dryden  calls  attention  to  the  divisions  of  History : 
"History  is  principally  divided  into  these  three  species; 
Commentaries  or  Annals;  History,  properly  so  called;  and 
Biographia,  or  the  Lives  of  Particular  Men."  He  proceeds 
then  with  his  critical  dicta  : 

"  Biographia,  or  the  history  of  particular  men's  lives,1  comes  next 
to  be  considered;  which  in  dignity  is  inferior  to  the  other  two,  as 
being  more  confined  in  action,  and  treating  of  wars,  and  councils, 
and  all  other  public  affairs  of  nations,  only  as  they  relate  to  him 
whose  life  is  written,  or  as  his  fortunes  have  a  particular  dependence 

1  According  to  Murray's  New  English  Dictionary,  biographist  was 
first  used  by  Fuller  in  1662;  biography  by  Dryden  in  1683;  biographer 
by  Addison  in  1715;  and  biographical  by  Oldys  in  1738.  All  the 
other  compounds  are  later.  Bioypa<f>la  is  quoted  from  Damascius, 
c.  500.  BioypdQos  is  cited  by  du  Cange  as  mediaeval  Greek. 

1  The  influence  of  this  definition  may  be  traced  in  dictionaries 
from  Johnson  to  Murray.  The  Century  Dictionary,  for  example, 
adopts  it  verbatim. 


78  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

on  them,  or  connexion  to  them.  All  things  here  are  circumscribed 
and  driven  to  a  point,  so  as  to  terminate  in  one;  consequently,  if 
the  action  or  counsel  were  managed  by  colleagues,  some  part  of  it 
must  be  either  lame  or  wanting,  except  it  be  supplied  by  the  excur 
sion  of  the  writer.  Herein,  likewise,  must  be  less  of  variety,  for  the 
same  reason;  because  the  fortunes  and  actions  of  one  man  are 
related,  not  those  of  many.  Thus  the  actions  and  achievements 
of  Sylla,  Lucullus,  and  Pompey,  are  all  of  them  but  the  successive 
parts  of  the  Mithridatic  war;  of  which  we  could  have  no  perfect 
image,  if  the  same  hand  had  not  given  us  the  whole,  though  at 
several  views,  in  their  particular  lives. 

"  Yet  though  we  allow,  for  the  reasons  above  alleged,  that  this  kind 
of  writing  is  in  dignity  inferior  to  History  and  Annals,  in  pleasure 
and  instruction  it  equals,  or  even  excels,  both  of  them.  It  is  not  only 
commanded  by  ancient  practice  to  celebrate  the  memory  of  great 
and  worthy  men,  as  the  best  thanks  which  posterity  can  pay  them, 
but  also  the  examples  of  virtue  are  of  more  vigour,  when  they  are  thus 
contracted  into  individuals.  As  the  sunbeams,  united  in  a  burning- 
glass  to  a  point  have  greater  force  than  when  they  are  darted  from 
plain  superficies,  so  the  virtues  and  actions  of  man,  drawn  together 
into  a  single  story,  strike  upon  our  minds  a  stronger  and  more  lively 
impression,  than  the  scattered  relations  of  many  men,  and  many 
actions;  and,  by  the  same  means  that  they  give  us  pleasure,  they 
afford  us  profit  too  .  .  .  and  as  the  reader  is  more  concerned  at  one 
man's  fortune  than  those  of  many,  so  the  writer  likewise  is  more 
capable  of  making  a  perfect  work  if  he  confine  himself  to  this  narrow 
compass.  The  lineaments,  features,  and  colouring  of  a  single  picture 
may  be  hit  exactly:  but  in  a  history-piece  of  many  figures,  the 
general  design,  the  ordonnance  or  disposition  of  it,  the  relation  of  one 
figure  to  another,  the  diversity  of  the  posture,  habits,  shadowings, 
and  all  the  other  graces  conspiring  to  an  uniformity,  are  of  so  diffi 
cult  performance,  that  neither  is  the  resemblance  of  particular 
persons  often  perfect,  nor  the  beauty  of  the  piece  complete;  for  any 
considerable  errour  in  the  parts  renders  the  whole  disagreeable  and 
lame.  Thus,  then  the  perfection  of  the  work,  and  the  benefit  arising 
from  it,  are  both  more  absolute  in  biography  than  in  history.  .  .  . 

"  Biographia,  or  the  histories  of  particular  lives,  though  circum 
scribed  in  the  subject,  is  yet  more  extensive  in  the  style  than  the 
other  two;  for  it  not  only  comprehends  them  both,  but  has  some 
what  superadded,  which  neither  of  them  have.  The  style  of  it  is 
various  according  to  the  occasion.  There  are  proper  places  in  it  for 
the  plainness  and  nakedness  of  narration,  which  is  ascribed  to  annals ; 
there  is  also  room  reserved  for  the  loftiness  and  gravity  of  general 


NEW  BEGINNINGS  IN  ENGLISH       79 

history,  when  the  actions  related  shall  require  that  manner  of 
expression.  But  there  is  withal  a  descent  into  minute  circumstances, 
and  trivial  passages  of  life,  which  are  natural  to  this  way  of  writing, 
and  which  the  dignity  of  the  other  two  will  not  admit.  There  you 
are  conducted  only  into  the  rooms  of  state,  here  you  are  led  into  the 
private  lodgings  of  the  hero;  you  see  him  in  his  undress,  and  are 
made  familiar  with  his  most  private  actions  and  conversations.  You 
may  behold  a  Scipio  and  a  Laelius  gathering  cockleshells  on  the  shore, 
Augustus  playing  at  bounding  stones  with  boys,  and  Agesilaus 
riding  on  a  hobby-horse  among  his  children.  The  pageantry  of  life 
is  taken  away :  you  see  the  poor  reasonable  animal  as  naked  as  ever 
nature  made  him;  are  made  acquainted  with  his  passions  and  his 
follies,  and  find  the  demi-god  a  man.  Plutarch  himself  has  more  than 
once  defended  this  kind  of  relating  little  passages:  for,  in  the  Life 
of  Alexander,  he  says  thus :  '  In  writing  the  lives  of  illustrious  Men, 
I  am  not  tied  to  the  laws  of  history;  nor  does  it  follow  that,  because 
an  action  is  great,  it  therefore  manifests  the  greatness  and  virtue  of 
him  who  did  it;  but,  on  the  other  side,  sometimes  a  word,  or  a 
casual  jest,  betrays  a  man  more  to  our  knowledge  of  him,  than  a 
battle  fought  wherein  ten  thousand  men  were  slain,  or  sacking  of 
cities,  or  a  course  of  victories.'  In  another  place  he  quotes  Xenophon 
on  the  like  occasion :  '  The  sayings  of  great  men  in  their  familiar 
discourses,  and  amidst  their  wine,  have  somewhat  in  them  which 
is  worthy  to  be  transmitted  to  posterity.'  Our  author  [Plutarch] 
therefore  needs  no  excuse,  but  rather  deserves  a  commendation, 
when  he  relates,  as  pleasant,  some  sayings  of  his  heroes,  which  appear 
(I  must  confess  it)  very  cold  and  insipid  mirth  to  us.  For  it  is  not  his 
meaning  to  commend  the  jest,  but  to  paint  the  man."  1 

To  such  a  stage  had  biography  and  the  criticism  of  bio 
graphy  progressed  seventeen  years  before  the  close  of  the 
seventeenth  century.  It  is  at  once  apparent  that,  par 
ticularly  as  expressed  in  Dryden's  contribution  to  the  sub 
ject,  the  broad,  general  principles  of  biography  are  clearly 
set  forth.  Portions  of  the  foregoing  excerpts  could  well  be 
applied  to  the  work  done  by  Boswell.  The  conception  of 
biography  had  become  clear  in  the  minds  of  men  like 
Dryden,  even  though  they  had  not  reached  the  point  where 
they  could  consider  it  as  related,  indeed,  to  history,  yet 

»  The  Works  of  John  Dryden,  Constable  (1821),  vol.  17,  pp.  56-62. 


8o  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

definitely  separated  from  it — a  literary  form  sui  generis. 
The  long  process  of  evolution  in  the  biographical  form  was, 
at  the  close  of  the  seventeenth  century,  nearing  culmina 
tion  so  far  as  content  was  concerned :  a  full  century  was  still 
demanded  to  bring  }about  that  culmination.  What  all 
writers  of  biographical  narrative  from  long  before  the  time 
of  Plutarch l  had  struggled  to  present  — "  that  faithful 
portrait  of  a  soul  in  its  adventures  through  life  " — was 
reserved  for  a  native  of  North  Britain  to  delineate  with 
remarkable  completeness  and  success.  It  was  entirely  in 
keeping  with  the  progress  of  human  thought  and  manners 
that  the  "  fulness  of  time  "  came  near  the  end  of  the 
eighteenth  century. 

1  Professor  Bernadotte  Perrin,  of  Yale  University,  has  shown  in 
the  excellent  Introduction  to  his  Plutarch's  Themistocles  and  Arts- 
tides  (the  parts  "  Plutarcfc  the  Biographer  "  and  "  Biography  before 
Plutarch  ")  that  "  there  was  a  recognised  technique  of  biography 
long  before  Plutarch,  to  the  general  features  of  which  it  can  be  seen 
that  he  conforms,  at  least  in  many  of  his  Lives." 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       81 


CHAPTER  V 

THE   RISE   OF  MODERN    ENGLISH    BIOGRAPHY THE 

EIGHTEENTH    CENTURY 

MANY  conditions  conspired  to  make  the  eighteenth  a 
century  of  development  and  fulfilment  in  the  history  of 
English  biography.  Education  was  becoming  wide-spread; 
a  reading  public  was  demanding  literature  which  was 
supplied  by  the  various  forms  of  journalistic  enterprise — 
newspapers,  magazines,  and  literary  reviews;  men  were 
awakening  to  an  interest  in  themselves.  The  emphasis  was 
fast  shifting  from  an  interest  in  the  higher  ranks  of  society 
to  an  interest  in  the  common  people:  in  the  stock  phrase, 
men  were  coming  to  a  realisation,  however  dim  as  yet,  of 
"  the  brotherhood  of  man."  One  of  the  important  factors 
in  the  production  of  this  state  of  affairs  was  the  coffee-house. 
Writing  under  date  of  June  15,  1680,  John  Aubrey  penned 
the  following  significant  sentence  in  a  letter  l  to  Anthony 
Wood :  "  'Tis  a  task  [the  writing  of  the  Minutes  of  Lives] 
that  I  never  thought  to  have  undertaken  till  you  imposed  it 
upon  me,  sayeing  that  I  was  fitt  for  it  by  reason  of  my 
generall  acquaintance,  having  now  not  only  lived  above 
halfe  a  centurie  of  yeares  in  the  world,  but  have  also  been 
much  tumbled  up  and  downe  in  it  which  hath  made  me 
much  knowne;  besides  the  moderne  advantage  of  coffee- 
howses  in  this  great  Citie  [London],  before  which  men  knew 
not  how  to  be  acquainted,  but  with  their  owne  relations,  or 
societies." 

Leaving  out  of  consideration  the  qualifications  for  the 
1  Quoted  by  Andrew  Clark  in  Aubrey's  "  Brief  Lives,"  vol.  i.  p.  10, 


82  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

writing  of  biography,  set  forth  so  naively  by  Wood  to 
Aubrey,  we  now  know  that  Aubrey,  in  mentioning  the 
coffee-house,  recognised  at  that  early  date  one  of  the  con 
ditions  requisite  for  the  development  of  biography.  In  1691, 
Anthony  Wood  admitted  that  such  work  as  the  gathering 
of  material  for  the  Aihenae  Oxonienses  was  "  a  great  deal 
more  fit  for  one  who  frequents  much  society  in  common 
rooms,  at  public  fires,  in  coffee-houses,  assignations,  clubs, 
etc.,  where  the  characters  of  men  and  their  works  are  fre 
quently  discussed,"  than  for  himself  "  as  'twere  dead  to  the 
world,  and  utterly  unknown  in  person  to  the  generality  of 
scholars  in  Oxon."  Unconsciously,  through  many  years, 
the  men  of  those  times  were  schooling  themselves:  those 
"  who  gathered  day  after  day  in  these  resorts  were  not  only 
interested  in  their  companions'  ideas  and  demeanour;  they 
cultivated  an  eye  for  trivial  actions  and  utterances,  a  gift 
for  investigating  other  people's  prejudices  and  partialities, 
and  they  realised  the  pleasure  of  winning  their  way  into  the 
intricacies  of  another  man's  mind.  Hence,  they  acquired 
a  new  attitude  towards  their  fellow-creatures.  Characters 
which  would  formerly  have  been  ridiculed  or  despised  were 
now  valued  as  intellectual  pi*zz$es,  eccentricities  attracted 
sympathetic  attention,  and  if  became  the  note  of  intelligent 
men  to  be  tolerant."  1  Dryden  and  the  worthies  who 
gathered  at  Will's  Coffee-House,  and  the  long  succession  of 
literary  men  who  succeeded  them,  helped  to  cultivate  a 
taste  for  the  gossipy  conversation  which  entered  into  the 
very  life  of  later  eighteenth-century  biography.^ 

Before  1700,  except  for  the  biographical  compilations 
which  need  not  here  enter  into  consideration,  biography  was 
sporadic  and  occasional.  Indeed,  for  many  years  after  the 
beginning  of  the  eighteenth  century,  "  lives  "  were  simply 
prefixed  to  editions  of  the  authors'  works.  The  public, 
1  Cambridge  History  of  English  Literature,  vol.  ix.  p.  31. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       83 

however,  was  now  beginning  to  demand  satisfaction  of  its 
desire  for  information  about  men — common  men  like  them 
selves.  The  man  who  came  forward  to  take  advantage  of 
this  desire  was  that  publisher  of  unsavoury  reputation, 
Edmund  Curll.  As  Professor  Walter  Raleigh  excellently 
says  of  Curll :  "  It  occurred  to  him  that,  in  a  world  governed 
by  the  law  of  mortality,  men  might  be  handsomely  enter 
tained  on  one  another's  remains.  He  lost  no  time  in  putting 
his  theory  into  practice.  During  the  years  of  his  activity, 
he  published  some  forty  or  fifty  separate  Lives,  intimate, 
anecdotal,  scurrilous  sometimes,  of  famous  and  notorious 
persons  who  had  the  ill-fortune  to  die  during  his  life-time. 
He  had  learned  the  wisdom  of  the  grave-digger  in  Hamlet, 
and  knew  that  there  are  many  rotten  corpses  nowadays, 
that  will  scarce  hold  the  laying  in.  So  he  seized  on  them 
before  they  were  cold,  and  commemorated  them  in  batches. 
One  of  his  titles  runs :  The  Lives  of  the  most  Eminent  Persons 
who  died  in  the  years  1711,  12,  13,  14,  15,  in  4  vols.  8vo. 
His  books  commanded  a  large  sale,  and  modern  biography 
was  established."  *• 

The  work  thus  initiated  by  Curll  soon  became  sufficiently 
important  to  merit  the  attention  of  the  leading  literary 
men  of  the  time.  In  No.  35  of  the  Freeholder  (April  20, 
1716),  Addison,  writing  "  Of  Modern  Historians,"  spoke 
thus :  "  The  misfortune  is,  that  there  are  more  instances  of 
men  who  deserve  this  kind  of  immortality  [that  secured 
by  a  good  "  life-historian  "],  than  of  authors  who  are  able 
to  bestow  it.  Our  country,  which  has  produced  writers  of 
the  first  figure  in  every  other  kind  of  work,  has  been  very 
barren  in  good  historians.  .  .  .  There  is  a  race  of  men 
lately  sprung  up  ...  whom  one  cannot  reflect  upon  with 
out  indignation  as  well  as  contempt.  These  are  our  Grub- 
Street  biographers,  who  watch  for  the  death  of  a  great  man 
1  Six  Essays  on  Johnson,  p.  117. 


84  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

like  so  many  undertakers,  on  purpose  to  make  a  penny  of 
him.  He  is  no  sooner  laid  in  his  grave,  but  he  falls  into  the 
hand  of  an  historian;  who,  to  swell  a  volume,  ascribes  to 
him  works  which  he  never  wrote,  and  actions  which  he 
never  performed;  celebrates  virtues  which  he  was  never 
famous  for,  and  excuses  faults  which  he  was  never  guilty  of. 
They  fetch  their  only  authentic  records  out  of  Doctors' 
Commons,  and  when  they  have  got  a  copy  of  his  last  will 
and  testament,  they  fancy  themselves  furnished  with 
sufficient  materials  for  his  history.  ^This  might  indeed 
enable  them  in  some  measure  to  write  the  history  of  his 
death;  but  what  can  we  expect  from  an  author  that 
undertakes  to  write  the  life  of  a  great  man,  who  is  furnished 
with  no  other  matters  of  fact  .besides  legacies ;  and  instead 
of  being  able  to  tell  us  what  he  did,  can  only  tell  us  what 
he  bequeathed  ?  This  manner  of  exposing  the  private 
concerns  of  families,  and  sacrificing  the  secrets  of  the  dead 
to  the  curiosity  of  the  living,  is  one  of  those  licentious 
practices  which  might  well  deserve  the  animadversions  of 
our  government,  when  it  has  time  to  contrive  expedients 
for  remedying  the  many  crying  abuses  of  the  press.  In  the 
meanwhile,  what  a  poor  idea  must  strangers  conceive  of 
those  persons  who  have  been  famous  among  us  in  their 
generation,  should  they  form  their  notions  of  them  from 
the  writings  of  these  our  historiographers!  What  would 
our  posterity  think  of  their  illustrious  forefathers  should 
they  only  see  them  in  such  weak  and  disadvantageous 
lights!  But  to  our  comfort,  works  of  this  nature  are  so 
short-lived  that  they  cannot  possibly  diminish  the  memory 
of  those  patriots  which  they  are  not  able  to  preserve." 

What  Addison  wrote  in  regard  to  the  short  life  of  the 
Grub-Street  biographies  was  true  enough.  The  works  of 
Curll  were  in  themselves  of  no  intrinsic  value,  yet  they  were 
a  stimulating  contribution  to  the  progressive  biographical 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       85 

movement,  as  they  were  also  the  inevitable  outgrowth  of 
accumulated  past  tendencies.  Now  that  the  "  taste  for 
biography  "  was  aroused,  the  supply  rapidly  increased. 
No  small  portion  of  this  supply  consisted  of  what  may  be 
classed  as  criminal  biographies,  which  constitute  a  remark 
able,  if  peculiar,  chapter  in  the  development  of  English 
biography.  These  biographies  were  far  enough  from  the 
long-standing  tendency  to  treat  only  of  churchmen,  rulers, 
and  great  statesmen;  and  indicate  in  no  uncertain  way 
the  shifting,  unwholesome  as  it  may  have  been  in  this  case, 
of  attention  to  the  common  people.  Criminal  pamphlets 
of  actual  rogues  were  first  published  in  English  in  the 
sixteenth  century;  these  were  followed  by  longer  narratives 
in  the  seventeenth;  and  these  in  the  eighteenth  were  suc 
ceeded  by  a  "  deluge  of  rogue  literature  "  —  memoirs, 
sketches,  confessions,  and  such  collected  chronicles  of  crime 
as  The  Newgate  Calendar.1 

At  this  point,  it  is  well  to  note  the  manner  in  which  the 
English  novel  developed  as  an  offshoot  of  biography. 
Daniel  Defoe  was  one  of  those  who,  on  the  death  of  a  well- 
known  person,  made  a  practice  of  writing  a  life  immediately, 
in  order  to  take  advantage  of  public  interest.  As  he  often 
found  it  difficult  or  impossible  to  obtain  full  and  authentic 
information  in  regard  to  the  subjects  of  these  lives,  he  did 
just  what  Addison  complained  of  in  the  Freeholder  paper 
given  above,  filled  his  pages  with  inferences  and  inventions. 
In  short,  "  fiction  entered  into  his  biographies,  just  as 
biography  afterward  entered  into  his  novels."  2  In  the 
words  of  his  biographer,  William  Minto,  "  from  writing 
biographies  with  real  names  attached  to  them,  it  was  but 

1  For  excellent  treatment  of  the  criminal  biographies,  with  biblio 
graphy,  see  chap.  iv.  of  vol.  i.,  The  Literature  of  Roguery,  by  Frank 
Wadleigh  Chandler. 

1  Bayard  Tuckerman,  A  History  of  English  Prose  Fiction,  pp. 
162-3. 


86  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

a  short  step  to  writing  biographies  with  fictitious  names ;  "  x 
for,  as  Professor  Chandler  well  says,  when  Defoe  "  turned 
from  composing  criminal  pamphlets  upon  Wild  and  Shep- 
pard  [actual  rogues]  to  write  Moll  Flanders  and  Colonel 
Jacque,  he  merely  substituted  imaginary  for  actual  beings, 
and  enlarged  the  scale  without  altering  the  method  of 
treatment."  2  It  is  thus  evident  that  "  the  realistic  writing 
of  Defoe  and  the  realistic  novel  in  England  were,  the 
offspring  of  these  ancestors,  the  children  of  a  taste  for  fact. 
Realistic  fiction  in  this  country  was  first  written  by  way  of 
direct  imitation  of  truthful  record,  and  not,  as  in  France, 
by  way  of  burlesque  on  the  high-flown  romance."  3  It  is 
sufficient  here  to  indicate,  also,  that  Robinson  Crusoe  is 
only  a  fictitious  autobiography,  for  which  Defoe  took  as  a 
model  "  the  form  that  best  produces  the  illusion  of  truth — 
that  of  current  memoirs  with  the  accompaniment  of  a 
diary."  4  Later,  we  shall  have  occasion  to  see  how  the  novel 
was  influenced  in  its  development  through  the  increasing 
use  of  letters  in  biography. 

Biography  had  now  concerned  itself  in  turn  with  eccle 
siastic,  ruler,  statesman,  and  criminal ;  the  eighteenth 
century  had  well  nigh  reached  its  midmost  point  before  it 
turned  attention  to  the  avowed  man  of  letters.  Before  the 
death  of  Alexander  Pope  in  1744,  the  lifet>f  no  man,  purely 
a  man  of  letters,  had  been  written  and  separately  published. 
Nicholas  Rowe's  Account  of  the  Life  of  Mr.  William  Shake 
speare  but  forms  the  introduction  to  an  edition  of  the 
dramatist's  plays  (1709).  Thomas  Sprat  had  excused 
himself  in  1668  for  writing  the  Life  of  Cowley — prefixed 
to  an  edition  of  Cowley's  Works — saying  that  perhaps  he 
had  "  spent  too  many  words  on  a  private  man,  and  a 

1  Life  of  Defoe,  p.  137. 

8  The  Literature  of  Roguery,  vol.  i.  pp.  186-7. 

8  Walter  Raleigh,  The  English  Novel,  p.  114. 

«  Cross,  The  Development  of  the  English  Novel,  p.  28. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       87 

scholar " — although  Cowley  was  not  at  all  entirely  a 
literary  man.  Pope's  death,  however,  was  the  occasion  of 
the  beginning  of  that  habit  of  writing  literary  biographies 
which  has  extended,  with  ever-increasing  volume,  to  the 
present,  when,  as  Professor  Lounsbury  remarks,  it  is 
impossible  for  the  man  of  letters  to  escape  the  biographer. 
Within  the  year  of  Pope's  death  two  anonymous  catch 
penny  lives  appeared,  followed  in  1745  by  the  pretentious 
and  worthless  two  volumes  of  the  Memoirs  of  the  Life  and 
Writings  of  Alexander  Pope  by  William  Ayre;  the  Life  by 
W.  H.  Dilworth  in  1759;  and  that  by  Owen  Ruffhead  in 
1769.  It  should  likewise  be  borne  in  mind  that  Johnson 
wrote  his  Life  of  Richard  Savage  in  1744,  and  thus  began 
his  career  as  a  biographer  of  literary  men  with  the  actual 
beginning  of  literary  biography.  The  man  01  letters  had 
at  last  come  into  his  own. 

It  is  interesting  to  note  how  from  the  very  beginning 
biographers  have  seemed  to  feel  compelled  to  make  excuses 
for  undertaking  to  write  of  men  whose  lives  have  been 
devoted  to  literature.  A  study  of  prefaces  and  the  opening 
pages  of  such  biographies  from  1744  to  ^e  Present  will 
furnish  abundant  evidence  of  the  custom.  No  more  need 
be  done  here  than  give  a  few  examples  of  the  practice.  In 
undertaking  to  write  of  Pope,  Ayre  remarks :  "  Let  no 
one  think  it  strange  or  foreign  to  Mr.  Pope  that  we  thus 
largely  discourse  comparatively  on  these  poets  with  him, 
for  he  rilled  up  all  his  time  almost  in  such  a  way;  take 
from  his  life  his  perusal  and  comparing  the  poets,  his  con 
versation  about  literature  with  his  friends,  receiving  letters 
on  learned  subjects  and  criticism  from  them,  and  writing 
again  to  them  all,  Mr.  Pope's  active  part  of  life  would  not 
fill  one  sheet  of  paper.  The  two  greatest  actions  of  his  life 
are,  that  he  went  from  London  when  young  to  live  at 
Windsor  Forest,  and  in  the  year  1716  moved  to  Twicken- 


88  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

ham,  for  the  remainder  of  his  days."  1  "  So,"  continues 
Ayre,  "  all  readers  will  be  disappointed  who  look  into  the 
Life  of  Mr.  Pope,  expecting  to  find  anything  else  but  a 
gentleman,  a  scholar,  and  a  poet.  He  filled  no  office  or 
place,  was  involved  in  no  lawsuits,  was  no  traveller,  moved 
but  little  from  one  place  to  another,  never  married,  and 
confined  his  conversation  within  the  circle  of  his  friends; 
in  short,  his  life  was  wholly  a  state  of  inaction,  and  spent  in 
conversation,  study,  and  books."  2 

Goldsmith,  in  beginning  the  Life  of  Voltaire  in  1759, 
writes  in  a  similar  vein:  "  That  life  which  has  been  wholly 
employed  in  the  study,  is  properly  seen  only  in  the  author's 
writings;  there  is  no  variety  to  entertain,  nor  adventure 
to  interest  us  in  the  calm  anecdotes  of  such  an  existence. 
Cold  criticism  is  all  the  reader  must  expect,  instead  of 
instructive  history."  He  continues  in  the  Life  of  Parnell, 
in  1770:  "The  life  of  a  scholar  seldom  abounds  with 
adventure.  His  fame  is  acquired  in  solitude;  and  the 
historian,  who  only  views  him  at  a  distance,  must  be  content 
with  a  dry  detail  of  actions  by  which  he  is  scarcely  dis 
tinguished  from  the  rest  of  mankind.  .  .  .  Such  is  the  very 
unpractical  detail  of  the  life  of  a  poet.  Some  dates,  and 
some  few  facts  scarcely  more  interesting  than  those  that 
make  the  ornaments  of  a  country  tombstone  are  all  that 
remain  of  one  whose  labours  now  begin  to  excite  universal 
curiosity.  A  poet,  while  living,  is  seldom  an  object  suffi 
ciently  great  to  attract  much  attention;  his  real  merits  are 
known  to  but  a  few,  and  these  are  generally  sparing  in 
their  praises."  Of  men  working  in  a  different  department  of 
literature  this  was  written  in  1772:  "It  will  in  brief  be 
only  remarked  that  the  personal  history  of  a  man  devoted 
to  study,  or  a  single  employ,  does  not  afford  matter  of 
great  moment,  or  admit  of  those  striking  events  that 
1  Memoirs  of  Pope,  vol.  ii.  p.  153.  '  Ibid.  pp.  154-5. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       89 

commonly  engage  general  attention.  The  scene  of  action 
is  of  a  different  kind,  and  by  their  literary  connexions  they 
are  best  known  to  the  world:  In  this  view  our  author 
[Leland],  the  subject  of  present  consideration,  requires 
particular  regard.  The  life  of  Leland  may,  in  some  degree, 
indeed,  be  said  to  have  been  active,  but  it  was  of  a  nature 
confined  and  laborious,  not  diversified  with  a  sufficient 
variety  of  objects  to  gratify  the  spirit  of  public  curiosity, 
but  an  arduous  task,  spent  in  silent  unremitting  attention."1 
In  1882,  Samuel  Longfellow  wrote  in  the  same  vein:  "  The 
reader  must  be  reminded  at  the  outset,  and  must  remember 
all  along,  that  this  is  the  Life  of  a  man  of  letters.  .  .  . 
tNow,  the  life  of  a  man  of  letters  must  needs  be  unexciting 
and  uneventful  in  the  eyes  of  men  of  activities  and  affairs. 
In  such  a  life,  a  new  book  is  a  great  adventure,  a  new  poem 
or  tale  a  chief  event."  2  Thus  apologetically  has  the  bio 
graphy  of  literary  men  arisen  and  held  its  own  against  the 
innate  human  desire  for  action  and  adventure. 

It  may  be  well  to  observe  here  that  some  years  before  the 
close  of  the  seventeenth  century,  biography  was  beginning 
to  grow  more  formal  and  studied,  the  briefer  sketches  giving 
place  to  extended  records.  This  was  particularly  true  in 
the  case  of  churchmen.  Gilbert  Burnet's  Life  of  William 
Bedell  (1685)  was>  f°r  t^ie  period  in  which  it  was  composed, 
well  proportioned  and  excellently  written.  Richard  Parr's 
Life  of  James  Usher  (1686)  devotes  one  hundred  and  three 
folio  pages  to  the  narrative  of  the  Archbishop's  life,  wherein 
we  find  a  brief  character  of  Usher  as  "  a  private  man,  a 
minister  and  bishop  of  God's  Church,  and  as  a  most  loyal 
subject  to  his  lawful  sovereign  prince."  8  One  of  the  longest 
biographies  published  before  Boswell's  Life  of  Dr.  Johnson 

1  The  Lives  of  those  Eminent  Antiquaries,  John  Leland,  Thomas 
Hearne,  etc.,  vol.  i.  p.  v. 

»  Life  of  Henry  Wadsworth  Longfellow,  Preface. 
»  Pp.  79-92. 


90  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

was  John  Racket's  Scrinia  Reserata  :  a  Memorial  offered, 
to  the  Great  Deserving*  of  John  Williams,  D.D.,  completed 
February  17,  1657; l  published  in  1693.  This  ponderous 
and  formidable  tome  of  458  folio  pages  was  frankly  intended 
to  be  more  than  a  biography  of  Lord  Keeper  Williams ;  $he 
title-page  indicates  that  the  reader  may  expect  a  narrative 
of  "a  series  of  the  most  remarkable  occurrences  and  transac 
tions  of  his  life,  in  relation  both  to  Church  and  State,"  and 
the  author  takes  care  to  add,  near  the  close  of  the  book;' 
"  I  need  not  admonish  my  readers,  for  they  find  it  all  the) 
way,  that  my  scope  is  not  so  much  to  insist  upon  the 
memorable  things  of  one  man's  life;  as  to  furnish  them  with 
reading  out  of  my  small  store,  that  are  well-willers  to 
learning  in  theological,  political,  and  moral  knowledge.'*  2 
Bishop  Racket  at  least  knew  what  he  was  doing,  and  when 
he  writes,  "  I  have  borrowed  this  much  room  to  set  up  a 
little  obelisk  for  King  James,  out  of  that  which  is  only 
intended  to  the  memorials  of  his  Lord  Keeper,"  3  he  is 
only  following  out  a  pre-determined  plan.  Of  Scrinia 
Reserata,  the  Rev.  George  G.  Perry  wrote:  "  It  displays 
great  learning  and  much  wit,  but  has  the  common  bio 
graphical  defect  of  defending  too  indiscriminately  the 
many  questionable  passages  in  the  lord  keeper's  life: 
nevertheless,  it  remains  one  of  the  best  biographies  in  the 
English  language.  Coleridge  in  his  "  Table  Talk  "  credits 
it  with  giving  the  most  invaluable  insight  into  the  times' 
preceding  the  civil  wars  of  any  book  he  knew."  4  Of  how-' 
ever  much  value  the  work  may  be  from  the  historical  point 
of  view,  it  is  bestowing  too  great  praise  upon  it  to  say  that  ' 
"  it  remains  one  of  the  best  biographies  in  the  English 
language."  This  is  true  only  when  the  actual  biographical 
portion  is  separated  from  the  great  mass  of  extraneous 

1  See  Scrinia  Reserata,  part  ii.  p.  229.  •  Ibid.  p.  229. 

3  Ibid,  part  i.  p.  228. 

4  Dictionary  of  National  Biography,  Article  "  John  Racket."  " 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       91 

material;   in  brief,  it  is  not  a  good  biography,  because  its 
author  lacked  the  power  of  artistic  construction. 

History  and  biography  as  combined  in  Scrinia  Reserata 
continued  to  flourish  and  develop  in  the  eighteenth  century; 
from  the  numerous  types  produced,  Thomas  Carte's  History 
of  the  Life  of  James  Duke  of  Ormonde  (three  volumes,  1735-6) 
and  George  Lord  Lyttleton's  The  History  of  the  Life  of  King 
Henry  the  Second,  and  of  the  Age  in  which  he  lived,  in  five 
books,  etc.  (1767)  may  be  given  as  examples.  As  the  interest 
in  biography  grew,  writers  began  to  look  abroad  for  sub 
jects,  and  sdon  Englishmen  were  publishing  such  long 
and  diligently  wrought  volumes  as  Conyers  Middleton's 
History  of  the  Life  of  Marcus  Tullius  Cicero  (two  volumes, 
1741);  John  Jortin's  The  Life  of  Erasmus  (1758);  and  the 
Rev.  Walter  Harte's  History  of  the  Life  of  Gustavus  Adol- 
phus  (two  volumes,  1759).  Likewise  a  new  spirit  of  research 
was  entering  into  the  works  of  both  historians  and  bio 
graphers,  a  spirit  that  was  later  in  the  nineteenth  century 
to  work  a  revolution  in  all  sorts  of  historical  and  literary 
labours.  Among  biographers,  William  Oldys  was  a  pioneer 
in  the  application  of  this  new  spirit,  his  Life  of  Sir  Walter 
Raleigh  (two  volumes,  1736)  remaining  as  a  monument  of 
painful,  laborious,  and  effective  research  in  a  period  when 
there  were  practically  none  of  the  helps  now  considered  so 
needful  for  the  literary  worker.  Gibbon  at  one  time  formed 
a  purpose  to  write  a  Life  of  Raleigh  ;  but,  after  reading 
Oldys',  and  coming  to  the  conclusion  that  "  he  could  add 
nothing  new  to  the  subject  except  the  uncertain  merit  of 
style  and  sentiment,"  he  gave  up  the  design.  Although  he 
does  not  say  as  much,  Gibbon,  without  doubt,  learned 
much  of  the  research  method  from  Oldys.1 

See  Gibbon's  Autobiography  for  references  to  the  work  of  Oldys. 
Consult  in  addition  the  Memoir  of  William  Oldys,  London,  1862,  p. 
xiv.  See  also,  what  Oldys  himself  remarks  in  The  Life  of  Raleigh, 
vol.  i.  The  Works  of  Sir  Walter  Raleigh,  pp.  4-5,  Oxford,  1829. 


92  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

It  will  be  noticed  that  Gibbon  speaks  of  the  "  uncertain 
merit  of  style  and  sentiment,"  a  phrase  with  which  a  student 
of  either  history  or  biography  finds  it  difficult  to  agree. 
Style  and  sentiment  are  no  uncertain  merits;  on  the 
contrary,  other  things  being  equal,  they  are  the  very  life- 
blood  of  a  composition.  Previous  to  the  middle  of  the 
eighteenth  century,  most  of  the  biographies  written  in 
English  laboured  under  the  disadvantage  of  a  heavy, 
obscure,  involved  style:  they  are  not  easy  to  read.  As  the 
leaven  of  Dryden's  and  Addison's  style  began  to  make  itself 
felt,  biography  becomes  a  brighter  thing  to  read.  Oldys' 
Life  of  Raleigh,  excellent  as  it  is  otherwise,  is  yet  laborious 
reading:  the  sentence-structure  is  but  little  in  advance  of 
Fulke  Greville  Lord  Brooke's  Life  of  Sir  Philip  Sidney 
(published  1652).  Literary  grace  and  charm  entered  into 
the  writing  of  biography  through  the  slight  contributions 
made  by  Oliver  Goldsmith,  of  whom  in  this  department  of 
composition  Johnson's  "  nullum  quod  tetigit  non  ornavit " 
is  noticeably  true.  Goldsmith  wrote  four  brief  biographical 
sketches:  the  Memoirs  ofM.  de  Voltaire,  1759;  The  Life  of 
Richard  Nash,  1762,  that  "  inimitable  mock  heroic,  confer 
ring  immortality  on  a  marionette  of  supreme  quality  " ; 1 
the  Life  of  Thomas  Parnell,  1759,  a  hurried  composition, 
written  for  an  edition  of  Parnell's  Poems,  published  by 
Davies;  and  the  fragmentary  Life  of  Lord  Bolingbroke 
prefixed  to  an  edition  of  the  Dissertation  on  Parties,  pub 
lished  by  Davies  in  1770.  Although  he  touched  these 
sketches  lightly — writing  them  hurriedly  and  with  little 
preparation — he  did  much  to  advance  biography  to  the 
realm  of  literature.  Since  Izaak  Walton  laid  aside  the  bio 
grapher's  pen  after  completing  The  Life  of  Sanderson,  no  one 
approached  him  in  style  of  biographical  narrative  save 
Goldsmith.  To  pass  from  Lord  Brooke's  Life  of  Sidney,  or 
1  Harmsworth  Encyclopedia,  Article  "  Biography." 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       93 

Racket's  Scrinia  Reserata,  or  Oldys'  Life  of  Raleigh  to 
The  Life  of  Richard  Nash,  is  like  passing  from  an  uncertain 
and  stumbling  way  through  the  darkness  of  a  cave  to  the 
grassy  footpaths  of  a  daisy-sprinkled  meadow. 

Meanwhile,  a  literature  dealing  with  the  criticism  of 
biography — a  literature  slender  enough  to  be  sure — was 
beginning  to  emerge.  Men  were  beginning  to  discuss  bio 
graphy;  authors  in  their  prefaces  and  opening  pages  gave 
their  opinions  on  what  had  been  done  and  on  what  they 
were  attempting  to  do;  the  periodicals  were  beginning  to 
carry  little  essays  on  the  subject  of  biography  into  the 
courts  of  the  coffee-houses ;  the  literary  magazines  were 
beginning  to  publish  notices  and  brief  reviews  of  "  Lives." 
In  the  issue  of  the  Idler  for  November  24,  1759  (>fe.  84), 
Johnson  felt  justified  in  making  the  statement  that  •"  Bio 
graphy  is,  of  the  various  kinds  of  narrative  writing,  that 
which  is  most  eagerl)*  read  and  most  easily  applied  to  the 
purposes  of  life."  The  form  had  now  permanently  and 
definitely  established  itself;  it  had  become  self-conscious, 
ready,  willing,  and  eager  to  shake  off  any  hindering  charac 
teristics  and  to  take  on  those  qualities  most  to  be  desired. 
The  criticism  of  the  period,  so  far  as  it  was  directed  towards 
biography,  set  itself  principally  against  the  elements  of 
panegyric  and  against  the  notion  that  the  lives  of  ordinary 
individuals  were  not  worthy  of  commemoration. 

In  his  suggestive  article  on  "  Biography  "  in  the  Encyclo 
paedia  Britannica,  Mr.  Edmund  Gosse  states  that  William 
Oldys  was  "  the  first  to  speak  out  boldly  "  against  this 
"  highly  artificial  thing,  lacking  all  the  salieat  features  of 
honest  portraiture,"  and  leaves  the  reader  with  the  impres 
sion  that  Oldys  was  the  first  to  attack  the  solemnly  vague, 
grandiose,  panegyrical  lives  of  which  Sprat's  Cowley, 
according  to  Mr.  Gosse,  was  the  forerunner  and  the  example. 
It  is  certain,  however,  that  Mr.  Oldys  was  not  the  first  to 


94  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

speak  out  against  such  types  of  biography;  and  equally 
true  that  Thomas  Sprat  was  not  the  first  to  produce  such 
narratives.  It  is  evidence  sufficient  perhaps  to  call  attention 
to  the  fact  that  Oldys,  even  though  he  says  that  "  general 
characters,  high-flown  panegyrics,  or  outrageous  satires 
had  very  frequently  appeared  under  the  appellation  of 
Lives,"  yet  praises  "  Sprat's  inimitable  Life  of  Cowley."  * 
Mr.  Gosse  has  also  undoubtedly  misinterpreted  the 
closing  sentences  of  Oldys'  Preface  to  the  Biograpbia 
Britannica  2  when  he  says  that  Oldys  "  pointed  out  the 
cruelty,  we  might  even  say  the  impiety,  of  sacrificing  the 
glory  of  great  characters  to  trivial  circumstances  and  mere 
conveniency,  and  attacked  the  timid  and  scrupulous  super 
ficiality  of  those  who  undertook  to  write  lives  of  eminent 
men,  while  omitting  everything  which  gave  definition  to 
the  portrait."  At  this  particular  point  in  the  Preface,  Mr. 
Oldys  was  simply  emphasising  the  fact  that  no  trouble  was 
to  be  spared  to  make  the  work  complete  and  easy  to  be 
consulted  even  though  the  preconceived  plan  should  have 
to  be  altered.3 

1  Biographia  Britannica,  vol.  i.  p.  xii.  See,  moreover,  what  John 
Berkenhout  had  to  say:  "  If  these  authors  [of  the  Biographia 
Britannica]  have  too  generally  and  indiscriminately  exhibited 
adulatory  portraits  of  our  ancestors,  it  must  be  ascribed  to  an  excess 
of  philanthropy,  and  therefore  ought  not  to  be  peevishly  considered." 
— Biographia  Liter  aria,  Prefatory  matter,  1777. 

8  The  Preface  is  unsigned,  but  in  all  probability  Oldys  wrote  it, 
or  at  least  had  a  part  in  its  composition. 

3  It  is  perhaps  well  that  the  portion  of  the  Preface  here  in  question 
should  be  given:  "  One  thing  however  we  must  be  permitted  to 
mention  before  we  conclude,  and  that  is,  the  care  to  bring  all  remark 
able  articles  into  our  Biography  at  once  and  under  the  same  alpha 
bet,  so  that  the  memorable  facts  throughout  our  whole  history,  the 
disputable  points  relating  to  chronology,  the  circumstances  attending 
every  event  of  importance,  as  well  as  the  characters  and  actions  of  the 
persons  principally  concerned  in  them,  may  be  all  readily  found  and 
represented  to  the  reader,  supported  by  proper  evidence,  and 
explained  by  the  comparison  of  what  has  been  advanced  concerning 
them  by  different  writers.  To  have  left  out  articles  of  note  would 
have  been  unpardonable  in  an  historical,  and  to  have  treated  such 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       95 

It  has  already  been  pointed  out  that  from  the  days  of 
the  narratives  of  saints'  lives,  the  tendency  of  biography  in 
Britain  had  been  towards  panegyric;  it  has  also  been 
admitted  that  Sprat's  Life  of  Cowley  did  much  to  confirm 
this  tendency.  It  remains  to  be  shown  that  a  reaction 
against  this  sort  of  biography  set  in  long  before  1747,  the 
date  of  Oldys'  Preface.  Margaret  Duchess  of  Newcastle's 
Life  of  William  Cavendish,  Duke  of  Newcastle^  appeared  in 
1667,  and  even  at  this  early  date  voices  a  strong  protest 
against  panegyric.  "  When  I  first  intended  to  write  this 
history  " — we  quote  a  part  of  the  Duchess*  Preface — 
"  knowing  myself  to  be  no  scholar,  and  as  ignorant  of  the 
rules  of  writing  histories  as  I  have  in  my  other  works 
acknowledged  myself  to  be  of  the  names  and  terms  of  art; 
I  desired  my  Lord  that  he  would  be  pleased  to  let  me  have 
some  elegant  and  learned  historian  to  assist  me;  which 
request  his  Grace  would  not  grant  me.  ...  I  humbly 
answered  that  without  a  learned  assistant,  the  history 

articles  superficially,  unworthy  a  critical  dictionary;  the  fulfilling 
our  Plan,  after  we  were  satisfied  of  its  being  approved  by  the  public, 
became  our  indispensable  duty,  and  to  that  we  have  constantly 
attended  in  the  choice,  and  in  the  manner  of  treating  our  articles. 
If,  therefore,  they  appear  more  numerous  than  might  be  expected, 
or  the  doing  them  justice  requires  a  little  more  room  than  at  first 
might  be  conceived  requisite,  let  it  be  considered  how  far  the  reputa 
tion  of  our  country,  the  honour  of  our  ancestors,  the  respect  due  to 
the  memories  of  great  men,  and  the  vast  importance  of  setting 
worthy  examples  before  the  eyes  of  posterity,  are  concerned.  When 
we  reflect  seriously  upon  this,  and  on  the  cruelty,  we  might  even  say 
impiety,  of  sacrificing  the  glory  of  great  characters  to  trivial  circum 
stances  and  mere  convenience,  it  might  be  justly  apprehended  that 
the  world  would  rather  resent  our  timidity,  if  we  should  distrust 
their  approbation  of  the  liberty  necessary  to  be  taken  in  this  respect, 
than  censure  us  for  doing  at  once,  what,  some  time  or  other,  must 
have  been  done,  if  we  had  been  too  scrupulous  in  the  performance 
of  what  we  undertook.  Architects  are  seldom  censured  for  small 
mistakes  in  their  estimates,  if  the  structure  they  proposed  to  erect 
be  but  uniform  and  complete  :  besides,  a  palace  finished  at  once,  is 
always  cheaper,  as  well  as  more  beautiful,  than  when  helped  out  by 
additional  buildings  made  necessary  from  the  cramping  of  the  first 
design." — Vol.  i.  p.  xv.  (1747). 


96  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

would  be  defective:  but  he  replied  that  truth  could  not  be 
defective.  I  said  again  that  rhetoric  did  adorn  the  truth: 
and  he  answered  that  rhetoric  was  fitter  for  falsehoods  than 
truths.  Thus  I  was  forced  by  his  Grace's  commands  to 
write  this  history  in  my  own  plain  style,  without  elegant 
flourishings,  or  exquisite  method,  relying  entirely  upon 
truth,  in  the  expressing  whereof  I  have  been  very  circum 
spect.  ...  I  am  resolved  to  write  in  a  natural,  plain 
style,  without  Latin  sentences,  moral  instructions,  politic 
designs,  feigned  orations,  or  envious  and  malicious  exclama 
tions,  this  short  history  of  the  loyal,  heroic,  and  prudent 
actions  of  my  noble  Lord,  as  also  of  his  sufferings,  losses, 
and  ill-fortunes."  In  1685,  Gilbert  Burnet,  in  his  preface 
to  The  Life  of  William  Bedell,  wrote  these  words :  "  I  will 
only  give  a  bare  and  simple  relation  of  his  life,  and  will 
avoid  the  bestowing  on  him  or  his  actions  such  epithets 
and  praises  as  they  deserve:  but  will  leave  that  to  the 
reader:  for  in  writing  of  lives  all  big  words  are  to  be  left 
to  those  who  dress  up  legends,  and  make  lives  rather  than 
write  them :  the  things  themselves  must  praise  the  person, 
otherwise  all  the  good  words  that  the  writer  bestows  on 
him  will  only  show  his  own  great  kindness  to  his  memory, 
but  will  not  persuade  others :  on  the  contrary  it  will  incline 
them  to  suspect  his  partiality,  and  make  them  look  on  him 
as  an  author  rather  than  a  writer."  In  another  part  of  the 
preface,  Burnet  insists :  "  Lives  must  be  written  with  the 
strictness  of  a  severe  historian  and  not  helped  up  with 
rhetoric  and  invention  " ;  and  later  on  he  confesses  that  in 
writing  of  Bishop  Usher  he  found  it  hard  to  follow  his  own 
principles :  "  So  he  was  certainly  one  of  the  greatest  and 
best  men  that  the  age,  or  perhaps  the  world,  has  produced. 
But  no  man  is  entirely  perfect;  he  was  not  made  for  the 
governing  part  of  his  function.  .  .  .  But  this  was  necessary 
to  be  told,  since  history  is  to  be  writ  impartially;  and  I 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY         97 

ought  to  be  forgiven  for  taxing  his  memory  a  little;  for  I 
was  never  so  tempted  in  anything  that  I  ever  writ,  to  dis 
guise  the  truth,  as  upon  this  occasion."  l  This,  surely,  is 
speaking  out  boldly  and  plainly. 

It  will  be  remembered  that  Mr.  Perry  wrote  that  Racket's 
Scrinia  Reserata  "  has  the  common  biographical  defect 
of  defending  too  indiscriminately  the  many  questionable 
passages  in  the  lord  keeper's  [Bishop  Williams']  life." 
The  manner,  therefore,  in  which  even  Bishop  Racket  spoke 
out  as  early  as  1657  (although  not  printed  until  1693)  is 
valuable  to  note:  "  I  would  he  had  done  himself  no  greater 
wrong  as  a  justician:  but  there  was  a  miscarriage  which 
I  cannot  pass  over;  a  great  deal  of  it  was  error,  but  some 
what  in  it  hath  the  wilfulness  of  a  fault.  I  am  not  wanton, 
like  the  ladies  that  lodge  about  the  piazza  in  Covent  Garden, 
to  lay  a  black  patch  upon  a  fair  cheek,  where  it  need  not. 
No:  my  scope  is  to  make  his  oversight  a  caution  to  others. 
For  I  intend  in  all  that  I  write  (I  appeal  to  God,  Who  knows 
it),  rather  to  profit  many  than  to  praise  him."  2  In  closing, 
Bishop  Racket  speaks  still  more  emphatically :  "  Yet  in 
these  observations  I  have  not  set  down  a  Cyrus,  a  feigned 
subject,  but  wrought  them  into  the  true  image  of  this 
prelate.  .  .  .  Some  are  cheated  with  wit  now-a-days  after 
the  French  fashion,  and  had  rather  men  should  be  com 
mended  in  romances  of  persons  that  were  never  extant, 
than  in  such  as  lived  among  us,  truly  deserved  glory,  and 
did  us  good.  My  subject  is  real,  and  not  umbratic."  3  If 
Bishop  Racket  could  not  live  up  to  what  he  thus  set  down 
as  a  principle,  he  at  least  recognised  the  biographical  fault 
and  spoke  out  plainly  against  it. 

In  much  the  same  strain,  John  Toland,  writing  at  the 
very  close  of  the  seventeenth  century  (1698),  speaks  thus 

1  Life  of  William  Bedell,  pp.  86-8. 
1  Scrinia  Reserata,  part  i.  p.  36. 
3  Ibid,  part  ii.  p.  229. 

G 


98  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

in  his  Life  of  Milton  :  "  Observing  in  this  performance 
the  rules  of  a  faithful  historian,  being  neither  provoked  by 
malice,  nor  bribed  by  favour,  and  as  well  daring  to  say  all 
that  is  true,  as  scorning  to  write  any  falsehood,  I  shall  not 
conceal  what  may  be  thought  against  my  author's  honour, 
nor  add  the  least  word  for  his  reputation.  ...  In  the 
characters  of  sects  and  parties,  books  or  opinions,  I  shall 
produce  his  own  words  as  I  find  'em  in  his  works,  that  those 
who  approve  his  reasons  may  owe  all  the  obligation  to 
himself,  and  that  I  may  escape  the  blame  of  such  as  may 
dislike  what  he  says.  For  it  is  commonly  seen  that  historians 
are  suspected  rather  to  make  their  hero  what  they  would 
have  him  to  be,  than  such  as  he  really  was  .  .  .  but  I  am 
neither  writing  a  satire  nor  a  panegyric  upon  Milton,  but 
publishing  the  true  history  of  his  actions,  works  and 
opinions."  *  In  concluding  the  Life,  Toland  recurs  to  the 
same  thought :  "  'Tis  probable  that  you  (as  well  as  I  or 
any  other)  may  disapprove  of  Milton's  sentiments  in  several 
cases,  but,  I'm  sure  you  are  far  from  being  displeased  to 
find  'em  particularised  in  the  history  of  his  life;  for  we 
should  have  no  true  account  of  things  if  authors  related 
nothing  but  what  they  liked  themselves.  .  .  .  But  a 
historian  ought  to  conceal  or  disguise  nothing,  and  the 
reader  is  to  be  left  judge  of  the  virtues  he  should  imitate, 
or  the  vices  he  ought  to  detest  and  avoid,  without  ever 
loving  his  book  the  less."  2  Roger  North,  in  writing  the 
lives  of  his  three  brothers  (originally  published  1740-42), 
kept  before  himself  at  all  times  the  thought  of  the  danger 
of  running  into  panegyric.  "  It  may  be  thought,"  he  writes 
in  beginning,  "  I  have  touched  here  too  much  upon  the 
panegyric,"  3  and  in  closing  he  says :  "  I  may  be  here  told 

1  Prefatory  letter,  Life  of  Milton,  addressed  by  Toland  to  Thomas 
Raulins. 

*  Life  of  Milton,  pp.  141-2. 

8  Lives  of  the  Norths  (Lord  Guilford),  vol.  i.  p.  7,  London,  1826. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY       99 

that  if  I  think,  by  these  descriptions,  to  exhibit  the  portrait 
of  a  great  man,  I  am  out  of  the  way.  ...  I  answer  that  I 
am  not  giving  the  portrait  of  a  perfect  man;  and  whoever 
pretends  to  do  so,  is  a  foul  flatterer;  and  yet  the  character 
I  give  is  no  small  one,  because  of  a  single  infirmity,  natural 
and  unavoidable."  l  To  what  extent  the  writer  of  the  Lives 
of  the  Norths  succeeded,  may  be  inferred  from  the  statement 
made  by  the  editor  of  the  1826  edition  of  the  Lives  :  "  With 
regard  to  the  character  of  Lord  Guilford  himself,  although 
the  biographer  has  evidently  delineated  it  under  the 
influence  of  feelings  which  rendered  it  impossible  for  him 
to  be  truly  impartial,  he  has  yet  stated  all  his  facts  so 
candidly  and  ingeniously  that  we  have  little  difficulty  in 
forming  a  just  estimate  of  the  Lord  Keeper's  real  character." 
Many  more  examples  of  the  habit  of  biographers  inveighing 
against  panegyric  might  be  given. 

It  was  not  alone  the  writers  of  biography  who  inveighed 
against  the  rhetorical,  panegyric,  untruthful  life;  one  of 
the  pioneers  of  the  English  novel  found  in  the  consideration 
of  such  biographies  inspiration  which  he  turned  to  good 
use  in  his  fiction  writing.  Thus  it  is,  that  the  English  novel 
is  again,  at  this  point  in  its  development,  indebted  to 
English  biography.  Henry  Fielding  entitled  chapter  i.  of 
Joseph  Andrews  (1742),  "  Of  writing  lives  in  general,  and 
particularly  of  Pamela :  with  a  word,  by  the  bye,  of  Colley 
Gibber  and  others,"  indicating  that  it  was  his  intention  to 
satirise  not  only  Richardson's  fictitious  autobiographical 
narrative,  Pamela,  but  Gibber's  actual  autobiography. 
After  speaking  of  the  service  which  "  those  biographers 
who  have  recorded  the  actions  of  great  and  worthy  persons 
of  both  sexes  "  have  rendered  to  mankind,  Fielding  con 
tinues  :  "  But  I  pass  by  these  and  many  others,  to  mention 
two  books,  lately  published,  which  represent  an  admirable 
1  Lives  of  the  Norths  (John  North),  vol.  iii.  p.  352. 


ioo  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

pattern  of  the  amiable  in  either  sex.  The  former  of  these, 
which  deals  in  male  virtue,  was  written  by  the  great  person 
himself,  who  lived  the  life  he  hath  recorded,  and  is  by  many 
thought  to  have  lived  such  a  life  only  in  order  to  write  it. 
The  other  is  communicated  to  us  by  an  historian  who 
borrows  his  lights,  as  the  common  method  is,  from  authentic 
papers  and  records.  The  reader,  I  believe,  already  con 
jectures  I  mean  the  lives  of  Mr.  Colley  Gibber,  and  of 
Mrs.  Pamela  Andrews.  How  artfully  doth  the  former,  by 
insinuating  that  he  escaped  being  promoted  to  the  highest 
stations  in  church  and  state,  teach  us  a  contempt  of  worldly 
grandeur !  how  strongly  doth  he  inculcate  an  absolute  sub 
mission  to  our  superiors !  Lastly,  how  completely  doth  he 
arm  us  against  so  easy,  so  wretched  a  passion  as  the  fear  of 
shame!  how  clearly  doth  he  expose  the  emptiness  and 
vanity  of  that  phantom,  reputation !  " 

Likewise,  in  Mr.  Jonathan  Wild  the  Great  (published  in 
Miscellanies,  1743),  Fielding  satirises  eulogistic  biography, 
finding  his  inspiration  chiefly,  no  doubt,  in  the  many 
criminal  biographies;  but  for  all  that,  pouring  forth  his 
scorn  on  all  biographers  who  "  lose  themselves  in  pompous 
eulogies  of  their  subjects,  for  their  '  greatness,'  without 
consideration  of  any  '  goodness.' "  x  A  real  Jonathan  Wild 
was  hanged  at  Tyburn  in  1725:  Fielding's  novel  is  the 
imagined  biography  of  this  criminal  from  his  baptism  to 
his  death  on  "  the  Tree  of  Glory."  The  following  extracts 
will  give  some  conception  of  Fielding's  method  and  purpose : 

"  But  besides  the  two  obvious  advantages  of  surveying,  as  it  were 
in  a  picture,  the  true  beauty  of  virtue,  and  deformity  of  vice,  we 
may  moreover  learn  from  Plutarch,  Nepos,  Suetonius,  and  other 
biographers,  this  useful  lesson,  not  too  hastily,  nor  in  the  gross  to 
bestow  either  our  praise  or  censure;  since  we  shall  often  find  such 
a  mixture  of  good  and  evil  in  the  same  character,  that  it  may 

1  See  Edmund  Gosse,  History  of  Eighteenth  Century  Literature, 
pp.  253-4;  and  Chandler,  The  Literature  of  Roguery,  vol.  ii.  p.  303. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY      101 

require  a  very  accurate  judgment  and  a  very  elaborate  inquiry  to 
determine  on  which  side  the  balance  turns :  for  though  we  sometimes 
meet  with  an  Aristides  or  a  Brutus,  a  Lysander  or  a  Nero,  yet  far 
the  greater  number  are  of  the  mixt  kind ;  neither  totally  good  nor 
bad:  their  greatest  virtues  being  obscured  and  allayed  by  their 
vices,  and  those  again  softened  and  coloured  over  by  their  virtues." 

"  We  would  not  therefore  be  understood  to  affect  giving  the 
reader  a  perfect  or  consummate  pattern  of  human  excellence;  but 
rather,  by  faithfully  recording  some  little  imperfections  which 
shadowed  over  the  lustre  of  those  great  qualities  which  we  shall  here 
record,  to  teach  the  lessons  we  have  above  mentioned ;  to  induce  our 
reader  with  us  to  lament  the  frailty  of  human  nature,  and  to  con 
vince  him  that  no  mortal,  after  a  thorough  scrutiny,  can  be  a  proper 
object  of  our  adoration." 

"  It  seems  therefore  very  unlikely  that  the  same  person  should 
possess  them  both  [greatness  and  goodness];  and  yet  nothing  is 
more  usual  with  writers  who  find  many  instances  of  greatness  in 
their  favourite  hero,  than  to  make  him  a  complement  of  goodness 
into  the  bargain ;  and  this  without  considering  that  by  such  means 
they  destroy  the  great  perfection  called  uniformity  of  character."  l 

"  It  is  the  custom  of  all  biographers,  at  their  entrance  into  their 
work,  to  step  a  little  backwards  (as  far,  indeed,  generally  as  they 
are  able)  and  to  trace  up  their  hero,  as  the  ancients  did  the  river 
Nile,  till  an  incapacity  of  proceeding  higher  puts  an  end  to  their 
search.  .  .  .  But,  whatever  original  this  custom  had,  it  is  now  too 
well  established  to  be  disputed.  I  shall  therefore  conform  to  it  in 
the  strictest  manner."  • 

"  We  are  sorry  we  cannot  indulge  our  readers'  curiosity  with  a 
full  and  perfect  account  of  this  accident,  but  as  there  are  such 
various  accounts,  one  of  which  only  can  be  true,  and  possibly,  and 
indeed  probably  none;  instead  of  following  the  general  method  of 
historians,  who  in  such  cases  set  down  the  various  reports,  and  leave 
to  your  own  conjecture  which  you  will  choose,  we  shall  pass  them 
all  over."  8 

1  The  three  foregoing  excerpts  are  taken  from  chapter  i.  of 
Jonathan  Wild,  entitled  "  Shewing  the  wholesome  uses  drawn  from 
recording  the  achievements  of  those  wonderful  productions  of  nature 
called  Great  Men." 

1  Ibid.  chap.  ii.  "  Giving  an  account  of  as  many  of  our  hero's 
ancestors  as  can  be  gathered  out  of  the  rubbish  of  antiquity,  which 
hath  been  carefully  sifted  for  that  purpose." 

*  Ibid.  chap.  vii. 


102  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

"  Thus  we  think  this  passage  in  our  history,  at  first  so  greatly 
surprising,  is  very  naturally  accounted  for;  and  our  relation  rescued 
from  the  Prodigious,  which,  though  it  often  occurs  in  biography,  is 
not  to  be  encouraged  or  much  commended  on  any  occasion,  unless 
when  absolutely  necessary  to  prevent  the  history's  being  at  an  end."1 

It  may  thus  be  seen  that  there  was  for  many  years  a 
strong  growth  of  sentiment  against  the  fulsomely  bombastic 
and  panegyric  life.  So  far  as  its  death  resulting  from  the 
stroke  of  any  one  man  is  concerned,  it  may  be  said  that 
Samuel  Johnson  dealt  that  stroke  when  he  wrote  The  Lives 
of  the  English  Poets  (1777-81).  Apart  from  the  element 
of  philosophical  literary  criticism  which  Johnson  infused 
into  the  writing  of  biography,  his  greatest  contribution  to 
the  development  of  the  form  was  his  abolition  of  panegyric. 
Professor  Walter  Raleigh  sums  up  the  matter  consum 
mately  when  he  writes  that  "it  is  true  that  Johnson  does 
not  offer  unmixed  praise  to  any  of  the  fifty-two  poets.  He 
was  an  old  man ;  the  heat  of  his  early  affections  was  abated. 
He  had  to  judge  not  only  of  men,  but  of  books,  which  are 
sometimes  good  in  parts.  His  was  a  new  experiment:  of 
praise  and  blame  there  had  been  more  than  enough;  he 
set  himself  to  show  the  reason  of  things  by  a  process  of 
detailed  criticism  and  analysis,  so  that  his  book  is  more 
than  a  history;  it  is  a  philosophy  of  letters.  Many  of  the 
earlier  writers  of  Lives  had  been  servile  eulogists.  '  We 
have  had  too  many  honey-suckle  lives  of  Milton,'  he  said 
to  Malone;  '  mine  shall  be  in  another  strain/  It  is  in 
another  strain;  a  strain  of  a  higher  mood  than  if  he  had 
culled  all  the  flowers  of  the  valley 

'  To  strew  the  laureat  herse  where  Lycid  lies.'  "  z 

From  this  time  forth,  in  theory  at  least,  panegyric  in 
biography  was  dead.  One  "  P.  H."  writing  to  the  Editor 
of  the  Gentleman's  Magazine  in  1777,  expressed  himself 

1  Jonathan  Wild,  chap.  xii.    2  In  his  Six  Essays  on  Johnson,  pp.  142-3. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     103 

in  these  words:  "I  have  always  thought  that  the  bio 
grapher  who  endeavours  to  palliate  the  wickedness  or 
varnish  the  vices  of  the  man  whose  life  he  is  writing,  does 
an  injury  to  morality — and  to  society.  The  trite  adage  of 
DC  mortuis  nil  nisi  bonum  is  no  excuse.  If  the  subject  is  of 
importance  to  be  given  to  the  public,  the  true  character 
ought  to  be  given,  and  indeed  the  man  who  paints  in 
colours  glaringly  false  does  a  real  injury  to  his  friend,  as 
he  only  provokes  some  one  to  draw  aside  the  curtain  and 
expose  what  might  have  remained  unnoticed  but  for  his 
injudicious  forwardness." l  To  this  communication  the 
Editor  replied :  "  We  entirely  agree  with  our  correspondent 
as  to  biography  in  general,  and  as  to  the  Memoirs  of  Mr.  F. 
in  particular."  2  Thus  it  was  that  by  1777,  biographers, 
public,  satirists,  reviewers,  and  editors  had  set  themselves 
against  this  false  note  in  life  writing.  As  a  matter  of  fact, 
while  in  theory  the  panegyric  is  dead,  in  practice,  such  is 
the  weakness  of  human  nature,  it  still  survives. 

The  second  point  upon  which  the  criticism  of  the  century 
concentrated  was  that  the  lives  of  ordinary  individuals 
were  worthy  of  commemoration.3  The  spirit  of  demo 
cracy  was  in  the  air;  men  were  beginning  to  recognise  the 
divine  authority  of  the  individual  human  soul,  and  to  admit 

"  That  man  to  man  the  world  o'er 
Shall  brithers  be  for  a'  that." 

1  Vol.  xlvii.  p.  625. 

•The  remarks  of  "  P.  H."  were  occasioned  by  the  observations 
in  the  issue  of  the  Gentleman's  Magazine  for  November  1777,  PP- 
534-7,  upon  the  Memoirs  of  Samuel  Foote,  Esq. 

»  The  following  definitions  from  Bailey's  English  Dictionary  (1721) 
throw  interesting  light  upon  the  prevalent  conception  as  to  those 
who  were  considered  worthy  of  biographical  commemoration  : 
"  Biographer,  one  who  writes  the  lives  of  eminent  persons  " ;  "  Bio 
graphy,"  which  in  the  1721  edition  was  defined  as  "  a  writing  of  the 
lives  of  men,"  was  later  defined  as  "  the  writing  of  the  lives  of 
eminent  persons."  Although  "  eminent  "  is  somewhat  indefinite  in 
meaning,  it  is  certain  that  few,  up  to  this  time,  were  considered 
eminent  unless  they  had  won  fame  in  Church  or  State. 


104  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

We  have  already  seen  that  a  remarkable  tendency  of  this 
interest  in  individuals  exhibited  itself  in  the  criminal 
biographies.  Sir  Richard  Steele  in  a  notice  of  Captain 
Alexander  Smith's  History  of  the  Lives  of  the  most  noted 
Highwaymen,  Foot-pads,  House-breakers,  Shop-lifts,  etc. 
(1714),  felt  constrained  to  speak  in  the  following  manner: 
"  There  is  a  satisfaction  to  curiosity  in  knowing  the  adven 
tures  of  the  meanest  of  mankind;  and  all  that  I  can  say  in 
general  of  these  great  men  in  their  way,  recorded  by 
Capt.  Smith,  is  that  I  have  more  respect  for  them  than  for 
greater  criminals,  who  are  described  with  praise  by  more 
eminent  writers."  1 

This  interest  in  the  life  of  the  common  man  steadily 
grew,  and  was  emphasised  by  writers  of  great  as  well  as  by 
those  of  little  importance.  William  Ayre  in  his  Memoirs  of 
Pope  (1745)  insisted  upon  the  value  of  the  private  man's 
life :  "  The  lives  of  private  men,  though  they  afford  not 
examples  which  may  fill  the  mind  with  ideas  of  greatness 
and  power  like  those  of  princes  and  generals,  yet  are  they 
such  as  are  more  open  to  common  imitation;  there  are 
few  within  whose  compass  those  actions  are,  that  is,  there 
are,  comparatively  speaking,  few  princes  or  generals,  but 
the  actions  of  a  private  man  are  as  a  counsel  to  all;  if  good 
eligible,  if  bad  detestable,  and  to  be  avoided :  for  this  reason 
most  wise  men  have  delighted  in  faithful  biography."  2  In 
much  the  same  strain,  Johnson,  in  the  Rambler?  added  the 
weight  of  his  authority,  and  made  this  assertion:  "  I  have 
often  thought  that  there  has  rarely  passed  a  life  of  which 
a  judicious  and  faithful  narrative  would  not  be  useful." 
Acting  upon  this  principle,  Johnson  had,  in  1744,  given 
to  the  world  the  Life  of  Savage,  one  of  the  first,  as  it  is  one 
of  the  best,  lives  of  a  man  having  little  claim  to  great 

1  The  Englishman,  No.  48,  Jan.  23,  1714.  '  Preface,  p.  v. 

8  No.  60,  October  13,  1750. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     105 

merit.  The  Life  of  Savage  won  the  praise  of  Johnson's 
contemporaries.  Sir  John  Hawkins  writes  that  "  The 
manner  in  which  Johnson  has  written  this  life  is  very- 
judicious:  it  afforded  no  great  actions  to  celebrate,  no 
improvements  in  science  to  record,  nor  any  variety  of  events 
to  remark  on";1  and  then  he  quotes  Henry  Fielding's 
commendation,  in  which  the  novelist  says:  "  The  author's 
observations  are  short,  significant,  and  just,  as  his  narrative 
is  remarkably  smooth  and  well  disposed:  his  reflections 
open  to  us  all  the  recesses  of  the  human  heart,  and,  in  a 
word,  a  more  just  or  pleasant,  a  more  engaging  or  a  more 
improving  treatise  on  the  excellencies  and  defects  of  human 
nature,  is  scarce  to  be  found  in  our  own  or  perhaps  in  any 
other  language."  2  "  The  Life  of  Savage"  writes  Professor 
Walter  Raleigh,  "  is  a  tribute  of  extraordinary  delicacy 
and  beauty,  paid  by  Johnson  to  his  friend  " ; 3  and  thus  a 
twentieth-century  critic  agrees  with  the  estimates  made 
in  the  eighteenth.  In  point  of  fact,  Johnson  not  only 
vindicated  his  statement  that  "  there  has  rarely  passed 
a  life  of  which  a  judicious  and  faithful  narrative  would 
not  be  useful " — a  dictum,  by  the  way,  thoroughly 
accepted  ever  since  it  was  uttered — he  produced  a  narra 
tive  that  became  a  model  for  many  similar  lives  of  the 
humble. 

Goldsmith,  as  a  disciple  of  Johnson,  summarised  much 
of  the  popular  opinion  in  regard  to  such  biography. 
"  History,"  he  writes,  "  owes  its  excellence  more  to  the 
writer's  manner  than  to  the  materials  of  which  it  is  com 
posed.  .  .  .  Thus  no  one  can  be  properly  said  to  write 
history  but  he  who  understands  the  human  heart,  and  its 
whole  train  of  affections  and  follies.  Those  affections  and 
follies  are  properly  the  materials  he  has  to  work  upon. 

1  In  his  Life  of  Johnson,  p.  153. 

1  Quoted  from  The  Champion  (February  1744)  in  Ibid.  p.  156. 

*  Six  Essays  on  Johnson,  p.  19. 


106  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

The  relations  of  great  events  may  surprise  indeed:  they 
may  be  calculated  to  instruct  those  very  few  who  govern 
the  million  beneath:  but  the  generality  of  mankind  find 
the  most  real  improvement  from  relations  which  are 
levelled  to  the  general  surface  of  life,  which  tell — not  how 
men  learned  to  conquer,  but  how  they  endeavoured  to  live 
— not  how  they  gained  the  shout  of  the  admiring  crowd, 
but  how  they  acquired  the  esteem  of  their  friends  and 
acquaintance."  l  A  little  further  on,  he  says:  "  It  were 
to  be  wished  that  ministers  and  kings  were  left  to  write 
their  own  histories ;  they  are  truly  useful  to  few  but  them 
selves;  but  for  men  who  are  contented  with  more  humble 
stations,  I  fancy  such  truths  only  are  serviceable  as  may 
conduct  them  safely  through  life.  That  knowledge  which 
we  can  turn  to  our  real  benefit  should  be  most  eagerly 
pursued.  Measures  which  we  cannot  use  but  little  increase 
the  happiness  or  even  the  pride  of  the  possessor."  2  In  the 
Life  of  Parnell,  Goldsmith  repeats  Johnson's  thought: 
"  There  is  scarcely  any  man  but  might  be  made  the  subject 
of  a  very  interesting  and  amusing  history  if  the  writer, 
besides  a  thorough  acquaintance  with  the  character  he 
draws,  were  able  to  make  these  nice  distinctions  which 
separate  it  from  all  others." 

With  the  close  of  the  eighteenth  century,  the  right  of 
the  ordinary  individual  to  biographical  commemoration  was. 
established.  All  along,  the  course  of  the  English  novel — 
that  offspring  of  the  biographical  spirit — in  such  narratives 
as  Pamela,  Tom  Jones,  Tristram  Shandy,  and  The  Vicar 
of  Wakefield,  was  helping  to  vindicate  this  right  of  the 
common  people.  It  is  an  interesting  fact  in  biography  that 
a  celebrated  life  of  a  great  ruler — celebrated,  that  is,  in  the 
sense  of  Boswell's  Johnson  or  Lockhart's  Scott — has  never 
been  produced  in  English;  with  but  few  exceptions  it  is  true 
1  Memoirs  of  M.  de  Voltaire.  2  Ibid. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY      107 

that  a  celebrated  life  of  either  statesman  or  churchman  has 
seldom  been  produced.  In  English  biography,  the  great 
achievements  have  been  in  the  department  of  letters,  and 
of  these  the  subjects  have  arisen,  for  the  most  part,  from 
the  common  walks  of  life.  It  is  not  too  much  to  say  that 
English  biography  represents  the  triumph  of  democracy, 
of  individual  worth,  of  human  sympathy,  of  the  divine 
power  in  the  human  soul. 

The  consummation  of  a  long  growing  and  very  important 
custom  in  biographical  narrative  was  wrought  by  the 
Rev.  William  Mason l  in  his  Memoirs  of  the  Life  and  Writings 
of  Thomas  Gray  (1775).  This  was  the  custom  of  using 
letters  as  a  part  of  the  biographical  method.  Letters  had 
been  used,  as  we  have  seen,  in  one  way  and  another  since 
Eddius*  Life  of  Wilfrid,  and  particularly  since  the  days  of 
Izaak  Walton.  Gilbert  Burnet  had  made  excellent  use  of 
correspondence  in  his  Life  of  Bishop  Bedell,  as  had  Bishop 
Racket  in  Scrinia  Reserata.  Richard  Parr  had  appended 
to  the  Life  of  Usher  "  a  collection  of  three  hundred  letters 
between  the  said  Lord  Primate  and  most  of  the  eminentest 
persons  for  piety  and  learning  in  his  time,  both  in  England 
and  beyond  the  seas."  Middleton  in  his  Life  of  Cicero  had 
incorporated  Cicero's  correspondence  into  the  narrative  of 
the  life.  The  custom  was  in  keeping  with  the  steadily  grow 
ing  interest  of  the  public  in  letters  and  letter-writing,  an 
interest  that  began  as  early  as  1664,  when  Margaret 
Duchess  of  Newcastle  published  a  collection  of  211  letters 
descriptive  of  London  life.  In  1678  came  the  translation  of 
the  "  Portuguese  Letters,"  followed  by  a  translation  of  the 
letters  of  Eloisa  and  Abelard.  Before  the  first  quarter  of  the 
eighteenth  century  had  passed  a  number  of  short  stories  in 
letter  form,  of  which  the  Letters  of  Lindamira  may  be  taken 

1  See  Austin  Dobson,  Eighteenth  Century  Studies,  chap.  "  Gray's 
Biographer."  Dent's  "  Wayfarers'  Library." 


io8  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

as  an  example,  came  into  existence.  Taking  advantage  of 
this  interest  in  letter-writing,  Rivington  and  Osborne, 
publishers,  in  1739  engaged  Samuel  Richardson  to  compose 
a  volume  of  Familiar  Letters  as  a  guide  or  "  handy  letter- 
writer  "  for  the  uneducated.  Catching  inspiration  from 
his  work  on  this  volume,  Richardson  put  it  aside  for  the 
time  and  turned  to  the  writing  of  Pamela  (published  in 
1740).  All  of  Richardson's  novels  are  written  in  the  form  of 
consecutive  letters.  In  this  manner,  the  development  of 
the  English  novel  and  of  English  biography  ran  parallel 
for/a*  number  of  years. 

season,  however,  did  not  insert  Gray's  letters  merely  as 
a  part  of  the  narrative;  he  used  them  to  tell  the  story  of 
Gray's  life:  in  o^.er  words,  he  attempted  to  make  Gray  his 
own  biographer.^!  In  regard  to  introducing  the  letters, 
Mason  says :  "  I  am  well  aware  that  I  am  here  going  to  do 
a  thing  which  the  cautious  and  courtly  Dr.  Sprat  (were  he 
now  alive)  would  highly  censure.  He  had,  it  seems,  a  large 
collection  of  his  friend  Mr.  Cowley's  letters,  *  a  way  of 
writing  in  which  he  particularly  excelled,  as  in  these  he 
always  expressed  the  native  tenderness  and  innocent  gaiety 
of  hisheart ' :  yet  the  Doctorwas  of  theopinion  that  'nothing 
of  this  nature  should  be  published  and  that  the  letters  that 
pass  between  particular  friends  (if  they  are  written  as  they 
ought  to  be)  can  scarce  ever  be  fit  to  see  the  light.'  What  1 
not  when  they  express  the  native  tenderness  and  innocent 
gaiety  of  a  heart  like  Mr.  Cowley's  ?  No,  by  no  means,  *  for 
in  such  letters  the  souls  of  men  appear  undressed,  and  in 
that  negligent  habit  they  may  be  fit  to  be  seen  by  one  or 
two  in  a  chamber,  but  not  to  go  abroad  in  the  street.'  Such 
readers  as  believe  it  incumbent  on  every  well-bred  soul 
never  to  appear  but  in  full  dress  will  think  that  Dr.  Sprat 
has  reason  on  his  side;  but  I  suspect  that  the  generality  will, 
notwithstanding,  wish  hehad  been  less  scrupulously  delicate, 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     109 

and  lament 1  that  the  letters  in  question  are  not  now 
extant."  2  As  to  his  purpose,  Mr.  Mason  continues:  "  In 
a  word,  Mr.  Gray  will  become  his  own  biographer,  both  in 
this  and  the  rest  of  the  sections  into  which  I  divide  the 
work.  By  which  means,  and  by  the  assistance  of  a  few 
notes  which  I  shall  occasionally  add,  it  may  be  hoped  that 
nothing  will  be  omitted  which  may  tend  to  give  a  regular 
and  clear  delineation  of  his  life  and  character."  3 

As  an  innovator,  Mason  felt  constrained  to  defend — or,  at 
least,  to  explain — his  object  thoroughly:  "  The  method  in 
which  I  have  arranged  the  foregoing  pages,"  he  writes,  "  has, 
I  trust,  one  degree  of  merit — that  it  makes  the  reader  so 
well  acquainted  with  the  man  himself,  as  to  render  it 
totally  unnecessary  to  conclude  the  whole  with  his  char 
acter.  If  I  am  mistaken  in  this  point,  I  have  been  a  compiler 
to  little  purpose;  and  I  chose  to  be  this  rather  than  a  bio 
grapher,  that  I  might  do  the  more  justice  to  the  virtues  and 
genius  of  my  friend.  I  might  have  written  his  life  in  the 
common  form  perhaps  with  more  reputation  to  myself;  but 
surely  not  with  equal  information  to  the  reader :  for  whose 
sake  I  have  never  related  a  single  circumstance  of  Mr.  Gray's 
life  in  my  own  words,  when  I  could  employ  bis  for  the  pur 
pose.  Fortunately,  I  had  more  materials  for  this  use  than 
commonly  fall  to  the  lot  of  an  editor;  and  I  certainly  have 
not  been  sparing  in  the  use  of  them :  whether  I  have  been 
too  lavish,  must  be  left  to  the  decision  of  the  public."  4  In 
the  face  of  these  utterances,  however,  Mason  was  so  much 
under  the  influence  of  his  age  that  he  appended  a  brief 

1  Cf.  what  Coleridge  has  to  say:  "  What  literary  man  has  not 
regretted  the  prudery  of  Sprat  in  refusing  to  let  his  friend  Cowley 
appear  in  his  slippers  and  dressing-gown?  " — Biographia  Liter  aria, 
Edition  of  J.  Shawcross,  vol.  i.  p.  44. 

1  The  Poems  of  Mr.  Gray.  To  which  are  prefixed  Memoirs  of  his  life 
and  writings  by  W.  Mason,  M.A.,  York,  1775,  p.  4,  note. 

3  Ibid.  p.  5. 

4  Ibid.  pp.  400-1. 


i  io  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

character  of  Gray  from  the  pages  of  the  London  Magazine, 
excusing  himself  for  so  doing  in  these  words :  "  I  might  here 
lay  down  my  pen,  yet  if  any  reader  should  still  want  his 
character,  I  will  give  him  one  which  was  published  very 
soon  after  Mr.  Gray's  decease.  It  appears  to  be  well  written; 
and  as  it  comes  from  an  anonymous  pen,1  I  choose  the 
rather  to  insert  it,  as  it  will,  on  that  account,  be  less 
suspected  of  partiality."  2  Thus  carefully  did  Mr.  Mason 
proceed  in  his  innovation. 

Three  years  after  the  publication  of  Mason's  Life  of  Gray, 
Samuel  Johnson  entered  into  that  agreement  with  a  com 
pany  of  London  booksellers  to  furnish  "  little  Lives  and 
little  Prefaces,  to  a  little  edition  of  The  English  Poets," 
which  resulted  in  a  finished  body  of  magnificently  mingled 
biography  and  criticism  of  fifty-two  English  poets.  These 
were  originally  published  in  the  old  and  long-established 
manner — as  introductory  to  the  works  of  each  separate 
poet.  Johnson's  work  marks  no  great  advance  in  the 
development  of  biography  save  that  introduction  of  philo 
sophical  criticism  which  has  ever  since  marked  them  as 
classics  in  their  field.  Johnson  wrote  much  in  the  mood  of 
Izaak  Walton — out  of  a  full  mind  and  without  exhaustive 
research.  As  a  matter  of  fact,  he  thoroughly  disliked 
grubbing  in  "  the  rubbish  of  antiquity  "  for  biographical 
materials:  such  a  nineteenth -century  work  as  Aitken's 
Life  of  Richard  Steele  he  would  never  have  taken  the 
trouble  to  produce.  He  little  valued  the  mere  mechanical 
work  which  any  one  of  ordinary  ability  could  perform ;  he 
would  have  had  little  in  common  with  Freytag's  Magister 
Knips.  "  To  adjust  the  minute  events  of  literary  history," 

1  The  author  was  William  Temple.  The  character  was  written  in  a 
letter  to  Boswell,  July  30,  1771,  who  published  it  without  authority 
in  the  London  Magazine,  March  1772,  p.  140.  Johnson  likewise  made 
use  of  it  in  his  Life  of  Gray. 

*  Poems  and  Memoirs,  pp.  401-2. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY      in 

he  asserted,  "  is  tedious  and  troublesome:  it  requires  indeed 
no  great  force  of  understanding,  but  often  depends  upon 
inquiries  which  there  is  no  opportunity  of  making,  or  is  to 
be  fetched  from  books  and  pamphlets  not  always  at  hand."  * 
In  this  belief,  he  proceeded  in  his  own  way,  and  confessed 
in  his  Prayers  and  Meditations  :  "  Some  time  in  March 
[1781]  I  finished  the  Lives  of  the  Poets,  which  I  wrote  in  my 
usual  way,  dilatorily  and  hastily,  unwilling  to  work,  and 
working  with  vigour  and  haste."  In  consequence,  the 
Lives  of  the  Poets  owe  their  value  rather  to  the  manner  in 
which  they  reflect  the  powerful  and  original  mind  of  the 
Literary  Dictator  who  dared  to  write  in  his  own  way,  than 
to  any  completeness  or  scrupulous  care  in  literary  research. 
To  be  sure,  Johnson  gathered  and  preserved  a  large  mass  of 
history  and  floating  tradition  which  might  otherwise  have 
perished,  and  as  a  result  made  a  permanent  contribution  to- 
literary  history.  The  course  of  English  biography  since  1781 
has  been,  however,  entirely  away  from  the  method  of  hap 
hazard  composition  which  he  followed.  Notwithstanding 
this  fact,  the  sane  attitude  of  Johnson  towards  the  pane 
gyric  element,  the  critical  discourses  united  with  the 
biographies,  the  clearness  and  straightforwardness  of  the 
style,  the  unity  resulting  from  the  idea  always  kept  before 
the  mind  of  the  author  that  he  was  "  writing  a  life  and  not 
a  death,"  all  combine  to  make  the  Lives  of  the  Poets  worthy 
of  a  secure  place  in  the  history  of  the  development  of 
English  biography.  » 

The  rapid  increase  of  public  interest  in  biographical 
narratives  during  forty  years  is  shown  by  a  comparison  of 
the  number  of  lives  immediately  following  the  death  of  Pope 
and  of  Johnson.  Within  two  weeks  of  Johnson's  death, 
there  appeared  anonymously,  Thr 


Life  of  Samuel  Johnson,  LL.D.,  with  occasional  Remarks  on 
1  In  the  Life  of  Dry  den. 


ii2  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

his  writings,  an  Authentic  Copy  of  his  Will,  and  a  Catalogue 
of  his  Works,  now  known  to  be  the  work  of  William  Cooke.1 
This  was  followed  in  17^85  by  William  $haw's~Memoirs  of 
the  Life  and  Writings  of  the  late  Dr.  Samuel  Johnson  ;  in 
1786,  by  Mrs.  Piozzi's  The  Anecdotes  of  the  late  Samuel 
Johnson,  LL.D.,  during  the  last  twenty  years  of  his  life  and 
Dr.  Joseph  Towers'  An  Essay  on  the  Life,  Character,  and 
Writings  of  Dr.  Samuel  Johnson;  in  1787  by  Sir  John 
Hawkins'  Life  of  Samuel  Johnson,  LL.D.  ;  and  in  1791  by 
James  Boswell's  Life  of  Samuel  Johnson,  LL.D.  Thus  we 
have  by  1791  a  total  of  six  Lives,  besides  the  sketch  by 
"*  Thomas  Tyers  in  the  Gentleman's  Magazine,2  and  The 
Journal  of  a  Tour  to  the  Hebrides  with  Samuel  Johnson,  LL.D. 
published  by  Boswell  in  1785.  Biography — and  in  par 
ticular  the  biography  of  the  literary  man — had  thus  after 
many  centuries  taken  its  secure  place  in  the  literature  of 
the  English-speaking  peoples — a  place  which  it  has  steadily 
maintained  to  the  present. 

/  *  We  have  now  come  to  a  consideration  of  James  Boswell's 
I  Life  of  Johnson,  that  work  toward  which  all  English  bio 
graphy  before  1791  tends,  and  to  which  all  since  that  date 
looks,  back  reminiscently.  The  mere  mention  of  English 
biography  suggests  to  the^.^rerage  person  Boswell's  Life  of 
Johnson.  Now  we  must  not  consider  Boswell  as  a  surprising 
development  or  unlooked-for  prodigy,  although  there  is  no 
doubt  that  many  do  look  upon  him  in  some  such  light.  It 
has  already  been  said  that  he  was  the  careful  student  of 
those  who  before  him  had  written  biography,  as  well  as 

1  The  issue  of  the  Gentleman's  Magazine  of  December  1784, 
contains,  on  pp.  992-3,  a  harsh  notice  of  this  hpok,  in  which  this 
sentence  occurs:  "  As  it  is  notorious  that  this  lAfe  was  annqunced 
before  the  Doctor  had  been  two  days  dead,  ^nd  Was  published  on 
the  ninth  morning  after  the  world  was  deprived  of  its  greatest 
literary  ornament,  a  few  trifling  inaccuracies  will  of  course  be 
expected,  and  pardoned  by  the  indulgent  reader." 

a  December  1784,  pp.  891-911. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     113 

the  fortunate  worker  who  produced  a  type  of  the  true 
method  for  which  all  had  been  striving.  As  a  zealous 
Johnsonian  disciple,  he  could  scarcely  have  missed  being 
a  biographer.  We  are  now,  however,  face  to  face  with  the 
questions,  How  did  it  come  about  that  Boswell  fulfilled  the 
true  method  of  biography  ?  and,  Just  what  development  in 
the  history  of  the  form  does  he  mark  ? 

Before  turning  directly  to  a  consideration  of  these  ques 
tions,  it  may  be  well  to  say  that  the  "  fulness  of  the  times  " 
had  arrived;  the  opportunity  for  a  great  biographer  was 
at  hand.  The  taste  for  the  form  was  strong;  the  interest 
in  literary  gossip  was  keen;  all  the  elements  entering  into 
biographical  narrative  were  fully  appreciated.  Moreover, 
a  great  man — perhaps  England's  greatest  literary  dictator 
— was  demanding  a  biographer.  And  very  diligently  did  a 
number  of  writers  endeavour  to  supply  the  demand,  and 
very  well  did  some  of  them  approximate  success.  Mrs. 
Piozzi,  bright  and  vivacious,  but  with  all  the  defects  of 
brightness  and  vivacity,  coupled  with  the  Blue-Stocking 
superficiality  and  dilettantism,  pressed  too  soon  into  print. 
She  came  very  close  to  supplying  what  the  public  demanded; 
the  Anecdotes,  however,  were  too  fragmentary  to  be  a  Life, 
too  hastily  and  carelessly  thrown  together  to  be  satisfying. 
Sir  John  Hawkins  likewise  pressed  feverishly  into  the 
field  by  a  too  zealous  desire  for  both  profit  and  fame,  which 
allowed  him  no  time  for  careful  writing  and  revision,  and 
cursed  by  a  discursiveness  which  marked  him  as  a  second 
Asser,  or  Herbert  of  Bosham,  achieved  only  a  brief 
triumph.1  Only  James  Boswell,  laughed  at  by  many, 

1  "  I  have  not  read  more  than  one  half  of  Sir  John  Hawkins,  whose 
book  I  met  with  at  Crewe  Hall.  It  was  dull  and  confused,  and 
impertinent,  and  illiterate,  and  with  all  these  faults,  it  somehow  or 
other  interested  me." — Samuel  Parr  in  letter  to  Henry  Homer, 
Nov.  20,  1788,  quoted  in  John  Johnstone's  Memoirs  of  Parr,  p.  4, 
note. 


ii4  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

unappreciated  by  almost  all,1  through  scorn  and  ridicule, 
through  melancholy  and  despair,  buoyed  up  by  a  strong 
reliance  on  his  own  powers,  "  patient  in  his  simple  faith 
sublime,"  toiled  steadily  on  for  almost  seven  years.2  He 
allowed  Mrs.  Piozzi  and  Sir  John  Hawkins  to  attempt  the 
satisfaction  of  the  public  appetite;  his  own  magnum  opus 
must  be  held  back  until  it  was  worthy  of  its  great  subject. 
Whatever  else  we  may  say  of  Boswell,  we  must  admit  that 
he  had  the  strength  to  work  and  to  wait ;  he  had  the  grace 
to  pay  the  price  demanded  for  the  production  of  worth 
while  work. 

And  now  we  are  ready  to  examine  the  method  followed 
by  Boswell  in  the  production  of  the  Life  of  Johnson.  This 
it  is  not  difficult  for  us  to  do;  for  Boswell  has  been  careful 
to  state  fully  the  principles  which  he  kept  before  himself. 
It  is  only  necessary,  therefore,  to  gather  these  together  in 
his  own  words. 

1  Richard  Twiss,  in  a  letter  to  Sir  W.  Scott,  afterwards  Lord 
Stowell,  after  pressing  him  to  undertake  the  task  of  writing  John 
son's  biography,  and  alluding  to  the  report  that  Doctor  Percy 
"  was  already  engaged  in  the  business,"  continued:  "  Nor  am  I 
better  pleased  with  the  report  that  Sir  John  Hawkins  or  Mr.  Boswell 
would  perform  the  task :  I  do  not  think  either  of  them  equal  to  the 
work ;  the  one  is  a  puppy,  the  other  a  pedant :  suffer  not,  I  beseech 
you,  the  life  of  so  excellent  a  man  to  be  written  by  such  puny  fellows : 
more  abilities  are  required  than  possessed  by  all  three:  rescue  his 
memory  from  all  such  mean  hands."  "  This  not  very  sagacious 
person,"  writes  Percy  Fitzgerald,  "  was  happily  not  to  have  his 
own  way;  but  the  appeal  is  valuable,  as  showing  what  was  the 
general  feeling  as  to  Boswell's  fashion  of  dealing  with  biography." 
— Life  of  James  Boswell,  vol.  ii.  pp.  104-5. 

a  "  Never  was  a  work  written  under  such  struggles  and  depressing 
conditions.  He  had,  however,  the  most  extraordinary  faith  in  its 
success,  and  long  hesitated  about  accepting  an  offer  of  £1000  for  it." 
— Fitzgerald,  Life  of  James  Boswell,  vol.  ii.  pp.  1 1 5-6.  Cf .  also,  this 
extract  from  Boswell's  letter  to  Wm.  Temple:  "  I  am  absolutely  • 
certain  that  my  mode  of  biography,  which  gives  not  only  a  history 
of  Johnson's  visible  progress  through  the  world,  and  of  his  publica 
tions,  but  a  view  of  his  mind  in  his  letters  and  conversations,  is  the 
most  perfect  that  can  be  conceived,  and  will  be  more  of  a  Life  than 
any  work  that  has  yet  appeared." 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY      115 

"  Instead  "  (writes  Boswell)  "  of  melting  down  my  materials  into 
one  mass,  and  constantly  speaking  in  my  own  person  ...  I  have 
resolved  to  adopt  and  enlarge  upon  the  excellent  plan  of  Mr.  Mason, 
in  his  Memoirs  of  Gray.  Wherever  narrative  is  necessary  to  explain, 
connect,  and  supply,  I  furnish  it  to  the  best  of  my  abilities;  but  in 
the  chronological  series  of  Johnson's  life,  which  I  trace  as  distinctly 
as  I  can,  year  by  year,  I  produce,  wherever  it  is  in  my  power,  his  own 
minutes,  letters,  or  conversation,  being  convinced  that  this  method 
is  more  lively,  and  will  make  my  readers  better  acquainted  with 
him,  than  even  most  of  those  were  who  actually  knew  him,  but 
could  know  him  only  partially;  whereas  there  is  here  an  accumula 
tion  of  intelligence  from  various  points,  by  which  his  character  is 
more  fully  understood  and  appreciated. 

"  Indeed  I  cannot  conceive  a  more  perfect  method  of  writing  any    ^ 
man's  life,  than  not  only  relating  all  the  most  important  events  of 
it  in  their  order,  but  interweaving  what  he  privately  wrote,  and  said, 
and  thought.  ...  I  will  venture  to  say  that  he  will  be  seen  in  this 
work  more  completely  than  any  man  who  has  ever  yet  lived. 

"  And  he  will  be  seen  as  he  really  was,  for  I  profess  to  write,  not  his 
panegyric,  which  must  be  all  praise,  but  his  Life;   which,  great  and 
good  as  he  was,  must  not  be  supposed  to  be  entirely  perfect.   To  be    j 
as  he  was,  is  indeed  subject  of  panegyric  enough  to  any  man  in  this 
state  of  being :  but  in  every  picture  there  should  be  shade  as  well  as   / 
light,  and  when  I  delineate  him  without  reserve,  I  do  what  he  himsej^7 
recommended,  both  by  his  precept  and  his  example." 

[Here  Boswell  quotes  the  last  paragraph  of  Rambler,  No.  60,  in 
which  occurs  Johnson's  statement,  "  If  we  owe  regard  to  the  memory 
of  the  dead,  there  is  yet  more  respect  to  be  paid  to  Knowledge,  to 
virtue  and  to  truth."] 

y  What  I  consider  as  the  peculiar  value  of  the  following  work,  i*, 
thV-quantity  it  contains  of  Johnson's  conversation  .  .  .  of  which 
the  specimens  that  I  have  given  upon  a  former  occasion  [in  a  Journal 
of  a  Tour  to  the  Hebrides,  1785],  have  been  received  with  so  much 
approbation,  that  I  have  good  ground  for  supposing  that  the  world 
will  not  be  indifferent  to  more  ample  communications  of  a  similar 
nature." 

"  If  authority  be  required,  let  us  appeal  to  Plutarch,  the  prince 
of  ancient  biographers.  .  .  .  '  Nor  is  it  always  in  the  most  distinguished 
achievements  that  men's  virtues  or  vices  may  be  best  discerned;    / 
but  very  often  an  action  of  small  note,  a  short  saying,  or  a  jest,  shall  / 
distinguish  a  person's  real  character  more  than  the  greatest  sieges 
or  the  most  important  battles.' 


ii6  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

"  To  this  may  be  added  the  sentiments  of  the  very  man  whose  life 
I  am  about  to  exhibit. 

"  'The  business  of  the  biographer  is  often  to  pass  slightly  over 
those  performances  and  incidents  which  produce  vulgar  greatness, 
to  lead  the  thoughts  into  domestic  privacies,  and  display  the  minute 
details  of  daily  life,  where  exterior  appendages  are  cast  aside,  and 
men  excel  each  other  only  by  prudence  and  by  virtue.  The  account 
of  Thuanus  is  with  great  propriety  said  by  its  author  to  have  been 
written,  that  it  might  lay  open  to  posterity  the  private  and  familiar 
character  of  that  man,  cujus  ingenium  et  candorem  ex  ipsius  scnptis 
sunt  olim  semper  miratun,  whose  candour  and  genius  will  to  the  end 
of  time  be  by  his  writings  preserved  in  admiration. 

"  '  There  are  many  invisible  circumstances,  which  whether  we 
read  as  enquiries  after  natural  or  moral  knowledge,  whether  we 
intend  to  enlarge  our  science,  or  increase  our  virtue,  are  more 
important  than  public  occurrences.  Thus  Sallust,  the  great  master 
of  nature,  has  not  forgot  in  his  account  of  Catiline  to  remark,  that 
his  walk  was  now  quick,  and  again  slow,  as  an  indication  of  a  mind 
revolving  with  violent  commotion.  Thus  the  story  of  Melancthon 
affords  a  striking  lecture  on  the  value  of  time,  by  informing  us,  that 
when  he  had  made  an  appointment,  he  expected  not  only  the  hour, 
but  the  minute  to  be  fixed,  that  the  day  might  not  run  out  in  the 
idleness  of  suspense;  and  all  the  plans  and  enterprises  of  De  Witt 
are  now  of  less  importance  to  the  world  than  that  part  of  his  personal 
character,  which  represents  him  as  careful  of  his  health,  and  negli 
gent  of  his  life. 

"  '  But  biography  has  often  been  allotted  to  writers,  who  seem  very 
little  acquainted  with  the  nature  of  their  task,  or  very  negligent 
about  the  performance.  They  rarely  afford  any  other  account  than 
might  be  collected  from  public  papers,  but  imagine  themselves 
writing  a  life  when  they  exhibit  a  chronological  series  of  actions  or 
preferments ;  and  have  so  little  regard  to  the  manners  or  behaviour 
of  their  heroes,  that  more  knowledge  may  be  gained  of  a  man's  real 
character,  by  a  short  conversation  with  one  of  his  servants,  than 
from  a  formal  and  studied  narrative,  begun  with  his  pedigree,  and 
ended  with  his  funeral. 

"  'There  are  indeed,  some  natural  reasons  why  these  narratives  are 
often  written  by  such  as  were  not  likely  to  give  much  instruction 
or  delight,  and  why  most  accounts  of  particular  persons  are  barren 
and  useless.  Tf  a  life  be  delayed  till  interest  and  envy  are  at  end,  we 
may  hope  i  r  impartiality,  but  must  expect  little  intelligence;  for 
the  incident,  vvhich  give  excellence  to  biography  are  of  a  volatile 
and  evanescent  kind,  such  as  soon  escape  the  memory,  and  are 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY      117 

transmitted  by  tradition.  We  know  how  few  can  pourtray  a  living 
acquaintance,  except  by  his  most  prominent  and  observable  par 
ticularities,  and  the  grosser  features  of  his  mind;  and  it  may  be 
easily  imagined  how  much  of  this  knowledge  may  be  lost  in  impart 
ing  it,  and  how  soon  a  succession  of  copies  will  lose  all  resemblance 
to  the  original.'  l 

"  I  am  fully  aware  of  the  objections  which  may  be  made  to  the 
minuteness  on  some  occasions  of  my  detail  of  Johnson's  conversa 
tion,  and  how  happily  it  is  adapted  for  the  petty  exercise  of  ridicule 
by  men  of  superficial  understanding  and  ludicrous  fancy\but  I 
remain  firm  and  confident  in  my  opinion,  that  minute  particulars 
are  frequently  charactefistick,  and  always  amusing,  when  they  relate 
to  a  distinguished  man.  JU  am  therefore  exceedingly  unwilling  that 
anything,  however  sligBt)'  which  my  illustrious  friend  thought  ifc^ 
worth  his  while  to  express,  with  any  degree  of  point,  should  perish.  1 
For  this  almost  superstitious  reverence,  I  have  found  very  old  and 
venerable  authority,  quoted  by  our  great  modern  prelate.  Seeker, 
in  whose  tenth  sermon  there  is  the  following  passage : 

"  '  Rabbi  David  Kimchi,  a  noted  Jewish  Commentator,  who  lived 
about  five  hundred  years  ago,  explains  that  passage  in  the  first 
Psalm,  His  leaf  also  shall  not  wither,  from  Rabbins  yet  older  than 
himself,  thus :  That  even  the  idle  talk,  so  he  expresses  it,  of  a  good 
man  ought  to  be  regarded  ;  the  most  superfluous  things  he  saith  are 
always  of  some  value.  And  other  ancient  authorities  have  the  same 
phrase,  nearly  in  the  same  sense.'  "  • 

From  these  quotations  it  can  be  seen  that  Boswell  was  a 
careful  student  of  bioasaphy,  and  that  he  built  upon  founda 
tions  laid  in  the  pastj  Every  method  employed  in  the  Life 
of  Johnson  had,  to  a  certain  extent,  been  practised  by 
previous  writers  of  biography.  jThus,  the  use  of  letters  had 
grown,  along  with  the  interest-ill  letter-writing,  from  Roper 
through  Walton,  Burnet,  Parr,  Racket,  and  Mason;  the 
practice  of  recording  familiar  anecdotes  had  steadily 
advanced  from  Aubrey  to  Sperici  and  Johnson,  had  been 
essayed  by  Boswell  himself  in  A  journal  of  the  lour  to  the 
Hebrides,  and  firmly  established  by  the  public  reception 
accorded  to  Mrs.  Piozzi's  Anecdotes  of  Johnson;  the 

1  Rambler,  No.  60.  The  reader  will  observe  that,  for  the  most  part, 
Johnson  has  merely  amplified  Plutarch's  statement. 
1  Life  of  Johnson,  Hill's  edition,  vol.  i.  pp.  29-33. 


ii8  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

growing  distaste  for  panegyric  had  culminated  in  Johnson's 
attitude  towards  it,  and,  of  course,  Boswell,  as  Johnson's 
disciple,  could  not  be  a  panegyrist,4  Finally,  the  recording 
of  conversation,  of  which  there  has  always. been  in  English 
biography  a  little,  was  perfected  by  BoswelJ.   It  can  readily 
be  seen,   in   conclusion,   that   Boswell  has   simply   taken 
Plutarch's  nut-shell  statement,  and  followed  it  faithfully.  1 
Through  so  many  centuries  had  practice  followed  theory! 
before  catching  up  with  her. 

Before  the  publication  of  Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson, 
public  opinion  had  been  much  divided  upon  several  points 
in  regard  to  biography.  Addison  had  written  in  1716: 
"  The  truth  of  it  is,  as  the  lives  of  great  men  cannot  be 
written  with  any  tolerable  degree  of  elegance  or  exactness 
within  a  short  space  after  their  decease;  so  neither  is  it  fit 
that  the  history  of  a  person  who  has  acted  among  us  in  a 
public  character,  should  appear,  until  envy  and  friendship 
are  laid  asleep,  and  the  prejudice  both  of  his  antagonists 
and  adherents  be,  in  some  degree,  softened  and  subdued. 
...  It  were  happy  for  us,  could  we  prevail  upon  ourselves 
to  imagine  that  one  who  differs  from  us  in  opinion  can 
possibly  be  an  honest  man;  and  that  we  might  do  the  same 
justice  to  one  another  which  will  be  done  us  hereafter  by 
those  who  shall  make  their  appearance  in  the  world  when 
this  generation  is  no  more.  But  in  our  present  miserable 
and  divided  condition,  how  just  soever  a  man's  pretensions 
may  be  to  a  great  or  blameless  reputation,  he  must  expect 
his  share  of  obloquy  and  reproach;  and  even  with  regard 
to  his  posthumous  character,  content  himself  with  such  a 
kind  of  consideration  as  induced  the  famous  Sir  Francis 
Bacon,  after  having  bequeathed  his  soul  to  God  and  his 
body  to  the  earth,  to  leave  his  fame  to  foreign  nations; 
and,  after  some  years,  to  his  own  country."  l  In  opposition 
1  Freeholder,  No.  35. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY      119 

to  this  opinion,  that  of  Johnson  has  already  been  given,  the 
tenor  of  which  is  that  if  lives  are  delayed  the  salient  features 
will  be  forgotten  and  lost. 

In    1787,   George   Home,   D.D.,   formerly   president  of 
Magdalen    College,    Oxford,    and    afterwards    Bishop    of 
Norwich,  defended  the  biographers  who  "  seem  conscien 
tiously  to  have  followed  the  rule  laid  down  by  him  [Johnson] 
— Sir,  if  one  man  undertake  to  write  the  life  of  another,  he 
undertakes  to  exhibit  his  true  and  real  character:   but  this 
can  be  done  only  by  a  faithful  and  accurate  delineation 
of   the   particulars   which    discriminate  that    character." 
In  closing  his  defence,  Bishop  Home  says :   "  On  the  whole 
— In  the  memoirs  of  him  that  have  been  published,  there 
are  so  many  witty  sayings,  and  so  many  wise  ones,  by 
which  the  world,  if  it  so  please,  may  be  at  once  entertained 
and  improved,  that  I  do  not  regret  their  publication.    In 
this,  as  in  all  other  instances,  we  are  to  adopt  the  good  and 
reject  the  evil.     The  little  stories  of  his  oddities  and  his 
infirmities  in  common  life  will,  after  a  while,  be  overlooked 
and  forgotten;   but  his  writings  will  live  forever,  still  more 
and  more  studied  and  admired,  while  Britons  shall  continue 
to  be  characterised  by  a  love  of  elegance  and  sublimity, 
of  good  sense  and  virtue.    The  sincerity  of  his  repentance, 
the  steadfastness  of  his  faith,  and  the  fervour  of  his  charity, 
forbid  us  to  doubt,  that  his  sun  set  in  clouds,  to  rise  without 
them:  and  of  this  let  us  always  be  mindful,  that  every  one 
who  is  made  better  by  his  books  will  add  a  wreath  to  his 
crown."  1   Something  over  a  month  later,  George  Canning, 
writing  of  his  fictitious  Gregory  Griffin,  launched  these 
shafts  of  satire  at  the  Johnsonian  biographers:    "  It  must 
be  confessed  that  I  have  for  some  time  intended  (and  have 
collected  materials  for  the  purpose)   as  the  eyes  of  the 
world  must  infallibly  be  fixed  on  his  exit,  to  favour  it  after 
1  Olla  Podrida,  No.  13,  June  9, 


120  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Mr.  G.'s  demise,  with  a  collection  of  Anecdotes,  Stories, 
Smart  Sayings,  Witty  Repartees,  Funny  Jokes,  and  Shining 
Sentiments,  under  the  comprehensive  title  of  Griffiniana. 
...  I  have  however  been  once  on  the  point  of  dropping 
the  design,  when  it  was  represented  to  me  by  a  friend,  on 
whose  judgment  I  had  great  reliance,  c  that  I  should  act 
unworthily  as  a  biographer,  and  ungenerously  as  a  friend, 
in  endeavouring  to  reduce  the  name  of  Mr.  Griffin  by  such 
a  publication  to  the  level  of  Joe  Miller  and  Tom  Brown; 
and  in  rashly  bringing  to  light,  such  uninteresting  and 
trifling  effusions  of  momentary  mirth,  or  occasional  levity, 
as  would  detract  from  the  weight  of  his  other  performances ; 
and  such,  as  from  their  own  intrinsic  worth,  could  only 
pass  without  ridicule,  when  they  passed  without  public 
observation.'  " l  In  a  more  broadly  satirical  vein,  Peter 
Pindar  (Dr.  John  Wolcot)  had  produced  his  celebrated 
Bozzy  and  Piozzi,  or  the  British  Biographers,  in  1786. 

In  No.  II  of  Lucubrations,  or  Winter  Evenings,*  Vice- 
simus  Knox  wrote  "  On  the  Character  of  Doctor  Johnson 
and  the  Abuse  of  Biography."  In  the  course  of  his  remarks 
he  says :  "  Few  men  could  stand  so  fiery  a  trial  as  he 
[Johnson]  has  done.  .  .  .  Biography  is  every  day  descending 
from  its  dignity.  Instead  of  an  instructive  recital,  it  is 
becoming  an  instrument  to  the  mere  gratification  of  an 
impertinent,  not  to  say  malignant,  curiosity.  There  are 
certain  foibles  and  weaknesses  which  should  be  shut  up  in 
the  coffin  with  the  poor  relics  of  fallen  humanity.  Wher 
ever  the  greater  part  of  a  character  is  shining,  the  few 
blemishes  should  be  covered  with  the  pall.  I  am  apprehen 
sive  that  the  custom  of  exposing  the  nakedness  of  eminent 
men  of  every  type,  will  have  an  unfavourable  influence  on 
virtue.  It  may  teach  men  to  fear  celebrity;  and  by  extin- 

1  Microcosm,  No.  39,  July  30,  1787. 
8  First  edition  published  1788. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     121 

guishing  the  desire  of  fame  and  posthumous  glory,  destroy 
one  powerful  motive  to  excellence.  ...  I  think  there  is 
reason  to  fear  lest  the  moral  writings  of  Johnson  should  lose 
something  of  their  effect  by  this  unfortunate  degradation. 
...  It  was  usual  to  write  the  lives  of  great  men  con  amort, 
with  affection  for  them,  and  there  ran  a  vein  of  panegyric 
with  the  narrative.  Writer  and  reader  agreed  in  loving  the 
character,  and  the  reader's  love  was  increased  and  con 
firmed  by  the  writer's  representation.  An  ardour  of  imita 
tion  was  thus  excited,  and  the  hero  of  the  story  placed, 
without  one  dissenting  voice,  in  some  honourable  niche  in 
the  temple  of  Fame.  But  this  biographical  anatomy,  in 
minutely  dissecting  parts,  destroys  the  beauty  of  the  whole. 
...  I  wish  that  his  life  had  been  written  in  the  manner  of 
the  French  elogts,and  with  the  affection  and  reverence  due  to 
supereminent  merit.  ...  If  he  were  alive,  he  would  crush 
the  swarms  of  insects  that  have  attacked  his  character, 
and  with  one  sarcastic  blow,  flap  them  into  non-existence." 
In  the  face  of  such  diverse  opinions  did  Boswell  proceed 
with  his  labours.  It  is  a  sure  testimony  to  his  biographical 
skill  and  artistic  sense  that,  in  the  very  face  of  this  conflict 
of  opinion,  he  held  to  his  own  notion  and  produced  a  bio 
graphy  which  remains  a  standard  of  excellence,  and  of 
which  all  succeeding  biographies  have  been  only  variations. 
It  must  have  been  with  feelings  of  the  deepest  satisfaction 
that  Boswell  read  in  the  Gentleman's  Magazine  for  May 
1791,  this^entence  in  review  of  the  completed  Life  of 
Johnson  :  \^A  literary  portrait  is  here  presented  which  all 
who  knew  the  original  will  allow  to  be  the  MAN  HIMSELF."^/ 
The  observations  written  by  Robert  Anderson,  M.D.,  in 
his  all-but-forgotten  compilation  from  the  narratives  of 
Hawkins,  Boswell,  and  Murphy,  are  well  worthy  of  a  place 
here  as  a  summary  of  contemporary  npinipn.  Much  has 
lVol.6i.  p.  466. 


122  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

been  written  of  Bos  well  since  1791:  very  little  of  what 
has  been  written  excels  Anderson's  just  remarks :  "  The 
narrative  of  Mr.  Boswell  is  written  with  more  comprehen 
sion  of  mind,  accuracy  of  intelligence,  clearness  of  narration, 
and  elegance  of  language  [than  are  any  of  the  others];  and 
is  more  strongly  marked  by  the  desiderium  chari  capitis, 
which  is  the  first  feature  of  affectionate  remembrance  .  .  . 
and  was  received  by  the  world  with  most  extraordinary 
avidity.  .  .  .  Xenophon's  Memorabilia  of  Socrates  may 
possibly  have  suggested  to  Mr.  Boswell  the  idea  of  present 
ing  and  giving  to  the  world  the  Memorabilia  of  his  vener 
able  friend;  *  but  he  professes  to  have  followed  the  model 
of  Mason  in  his  Memoirs  of  Gray.  He  has,  however,  the 
advantage  of  Mason,  in  the  quantity,  variety,  and  richness 
of  his  materials.  .  .  .  The  incidental  conversations  between 
so  eminent  an  instructor  of  mankind,  and  his  friends,  the 
numerous  body  of  anecdotes,  literary  and  biographical,  and 
the  letters  which  are  occasionally  interspersed,  and  natur 
ally  introduced,  in  the  narrative  part  of  Mr.  Boswell's 
ample  performance,  open  and  disclose  to  the  eager  curiosity 
of  rational  and  laudable  inquiry,  an  immense  storehouse 
of  mental  treasure,  which  far  exceeds,  in  merit  and  value, 
the  voluminous  collections  of  the  learned  and  ingenious 
men  of  other  nations.  With  some  venial  exceptions  on  the 
score  of  egotism  and  indiscriminate  admiration,  his  work 
exhibits  the  most  copious,  interesting,  and  finished  picture 
of  the  life  and  opinions  of  an  eminent  man,  that  was  ever 
executed;  and  is  justly  esteemed  one  of  the  most  instruc 
tive  and  entertaining  books  in  the  English  language.  The 
eccentricities  of  Mr.  Boswell  it  is  useless  to  detail.  They 
have  already  been  the  subject  of  ridicule  in  various  different 
forms  and  publications,  by  men  of  superficial  understanding 

1  See  Journal  of  a  Tour  to  the  Hebrides,  p.  407,  Dent's  "  Tempi/ 
Classics." 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     123 

and  ludicrous  fancy.  Many  have  supposed  him  to  be  a 
mere  relater  of  the  sayings  of  others;  but  he  possessed 
considerable  intellectual  powers,  for  which  he  has  not  had 
sufficient  credit.  It  is  manifest  to  every  reader  of  any 
discernment,  that  he  could  never  have  collected  such  a 
mass  of  information,  and  just  observations  on  human  life, 
as  his  very  valuable  work  contains,  without  great  strength 
of  mind,  and  much  various  knowledge,  as  he  never  could 
have  displayed  his  collections  in  so  lively  a  manner,  had  he 
not  possessed  a  very  picturesque  imagination;  or  in  other 
words,  had  he  not  had  a  very  happy  turn  for  poetry,  as  well 
as  for  humour  and  for  wit."  l 

An  "explanation"  of  Boswell  may  be  left  for  others; 
it  will  perhaps  be  enough  to  repeat  here  that  apart  from 
any  other  considerations,  he  paid  the  price  necessary  for 
the  production  of  such  a  work,  in  labour  of  the  severest 
and  most  sustained  kind.  "  I  have  sometimes  been  obliged," 
he  writes,  "  to  run  half  over  London,  in  order  to  fix  a  date 
correctly;  which,  when  I  had  accomplished,  I  well  knew 
would  attain  me  no  praise,  though  a  failure  would  have 
been  to  my  discredit."  2  Such  carefulness  in  mere  matters 
of  detail  is,  of  course,  of  minor  importance;  Boswell  was 
willing,  in  addition,  to  subject  himself  to  ridicule  in  the 
attempt  to  bring  his  work  up  to  his  ideal  of  what  it  should 
be.  "  A  trick  which  I  have  seen  played  on  common  occa 
sions,  of  sitting  stealthily  down  at  the  other  end  of  the  room 
to  write  at  the  moment  what  should  be  said  in  company, 
either  by  Dr.  Johnson  or  to  him,  I  never  practised  myself, 
nor  approved  of  in  another,"  writes  Mrs.  Piozzi.8  True 
enough;  it  need  only  be  said  in  reply,  however,  that  Mrs. 

1  The  Life  of  Samuel  Johnson,  LL.D.,  with  Critical  Observations  on 
his  Works,  London,  1795,  pp.  4-8. 

1  Advertisement  to  first  edition  of  the  Life. 

'  Napier's  Johnsoniana,  p.  20;  Mrs.  Piozzi's  Anecdotes  of  Johnson, 
p.  44- 


124  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Piozzi  could  not  produce  Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson  !  Again, 
we  must  keep  in  mind  the  weary  night  hours  spent  by 
Boswell  in  recording  the  conversations  while  they  were  yet 
fresh  in  mind,  before  that  "  elusive  and  evanescent " 
quality  had  passed  from  them.  When  these  and  other  like 
considerations  are  borne  in  mind,  Boswell  must  have,  at 
least  in  regard  to  the  preparation  of  the  Life,  the  honour 
due  to  one  who,  for  the  sake  of  the  accomplishment  of  a 
great  purpose,  knew  how 

"  To  scorn  delights,  and  live  laborious  days." 

A  comparison  of  Boswell  and  John  Aubrey  may  not  be 
out  of  place  in  this  connexion.  The  two  men  had  many 
traits  of  character  in  common:  both  were  erratic  and 
laughed  at  by  their  contemporaries.  "  He  was  a  shiftless 
person,"  wrote  Anthony  Wood  *  of  John  Aubrey,  "  roving 
and  magotieheaded,  and  sometimes  little  better  than 
erased.  And  being  exceedingly  credulous,  would  stuff  his 
many  letters  sent  to  A.  W.  with  folliries,  and  misinforma 
tions,  which  sometimes  would  guid  him  into  the  paths  of 
errour."  The  difference  between  the  two  men,  and,  in 
particular,  the  superiority  of  Boswell — that  spark  of  genius 
within  him  which  his  contemporaries  did  not  recognise — is 
in  nothing  more  clearly  emphasised  than  in  the  result  of 
their  literary  efforts.  Aubrey  left  nothing  but  fragments — 
highly  interesting  and  most  valuable  to  be  sure — but  still 
fragments.  Boswell  left  a  great  and  artistic  work  which  he 
was  bold  enough  to  compare — and  not  without  reason — to 
one  of  the  world's  greatest  literary  achievements.2 

*In  The  Life  of  Anthony  Wood,  Written  by  himself,  Athenae 
Oxonienses,  vol.  i.  p.  Ix.  edition  Philip  Bliss,  1813. 

*  "  It  seems  to  me,  in  my  moments  of  self-complacency,  that  this 
extensive  biographical  work,  however  inferior  in  its  nature,  may  in 
one  respect  be  assimilated  to  the  Odyssey.  Amidst  a  thousand  enter 
taining  and  instructive  episodes  the  Hero  is  never  long  out  of  sight; 
for  they  are  all  in  some  degree  connected  with  him;  and  He  in  the 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     125 

We  may  safely  conclude  that  BoswelFs  work  was  a  work 
of  culmination:    he  did  what  other  men  for  long  had  said 
should  be  done,  or  what  they  had  tried,  feebly,  to  do.1 
Almost  the  only  contribution  made  by  him  was  the  manner 
and  the  amount  of  recorded  conversation;    nothing  equal 
to  it  had  ever  before  been  known.    Yet  not  for  this  reason 
need    we    detract   from    BoswelTs   labours;    present-day 
criticism  is  telling  us  that  the  Iliad  and  the  Odyssey  are  but 
compilations — "  culminations,"  if  you  will.     Those  who 
cast  these  works  into  their  final  forms  are  sure  of  their  place 
in  the  Temple  of  Fame.    Professor  Walter  Raleigh  justly^"  ••» 
says :   "  The  accident  which  gave  Boswell  to  Johnson  and      / 
Johnson  to  Boswell  is  one  of  the  most  extraordinary  pieces     . 
of  good  fortune  in  literary  history.    Boswell  was  a  man  o£^ 
genius ;  the  idle  paradox  which  presents  him  in  the  likeness    ^ 
of  a  lucky  dunce  was  never  tenable  by  serious  Criticism, 
and  has  long  since  been  rejected  by  all  who  bring  though\ 
to  bear  on  the  problems  of  literature.  ...  He  had  simpli-  \ 
city,  candour,  fervour,  a  warmly  affectionate  nature,  a 
quick  intelligence,  and  a  passion  for  telling  all  that  he  knejjj**-* 
These  are  qualities  which  make  for  good  literature.    They 
enabled  Boswell  to  portray  Johnson  with  an  intimacy  a^d 
truth  that  has  no  parallel  in  any  language.  T  .   p-T^e 
Life  would  be  a  lesser  work  than  it  is  if  it  had  not  the  unity 
that  was  imposed  upon  it  by  the  mind  of  its  author*'  ~Tne 
portrait  is  so  broad  and  masterly,  so  nobly  conceived  and 

whole  course  of  the  History,  is  exhibited  by  the  Author  for  the  best 
advantage  of  his  readers." — Advertisement  to  second  edition  of  the 
Life  of  Johnson.  Cf.,  also,  Percy  Fitzgerald:  "  Mr.  Boswell  was,  in 
his  way,  an  artist;  nothing  is  more  remarkable  in  his  great  book 
than  the  tact,  the  self-denial,  the  power  of  selection,  and  the 
rejection  of  all  that  is  surplusage." — Life  of  James  Boswell,  vol.  ii. 
P-  253- 

1  See  George  Birbeck  Hill's  interesting,  but  much  too  laudatory, 
article  in  Macmillan's  Magazine,  May  1891,  pp.  37-43;  and  Percy 
Fitzgerald's  caustic  reply  to  it  in  the  Life  of  James  Boswell,  vol.  ii. 
pp.  281-4,  note. 


iz6  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

so  faithful  in  detail,  that  the  world  has  been  content  to  look 
at  Johnson  from  this  point  of  view  and  no  other."  l 

It  must  not  be  thought  that  Boswell  produced  a  perfect 
life.  "  It  cannot  be  denied,"  continues  Professor  Raleigh, 
"  and  Boswell  himself  would  have  been  the  first  to  admit  it, 
that  there  are  aspects  and  periods  of  Johnson's  career  which  ' 
are  not  and  could  not  be  fully  treated  in  the  Life."  2  As  has 
so  often  been  said,  the  Johnson  that  Boswell  knew  was 
the  Johnson  of  a  privileged  old  age ;  the  lights  and  shades 
of  those  slow  years  of  struggle  to  fame  are  not  in  Boswell's 
picture.  What  might  not  Richard  Savage  have  painted,  or 
helped  Boswell  to  paint,  into  that  portion  of  the  canvas  ? 
For  that  matter,  what  might  not  Goldsmith  have  done  in 
that  direction,  who  knew  so  much  better  than  Boswell 
could  ever  have  known  what  it  meant  to  try  to  "  set  the 
Thames  on  fire  "  ?  We  should  not  forget,  at  this  point,  that 
Johnson  once  said,  when  asked  in  regard  to  his  probable 
biographer,  that  "  the  dog  [Goldsmith]  would  write  his 
life  best  to  be  sure  "  3 — meaning  of  course  that  Goldsmith 
would  give  it  most  literary  grace  and  charm.  We  should 
rejoice  that  Goldsmith  did  not  live  to  write  it;  and  should 
equally  rejoice  that  deficient  as  the  Life  is  in  some  particu 
lars,  its  production  fell  to  the  lot  of  James  Boswell.  More 
than  a  half  century  before  BoswelPs  Life  was  published, 
these  words  of  Roger  North  were  given  to  the  public:  "  If 
the  history  of  a  life  hangs  altogether  upon  great  import 
ances,  such  as  concern  the  Church  and  State,  and  drops  •/ 
the  peculiar  economy  and  private  conduct  of  the  person 
that  gives  title  to  the  work,  it  may  be  a  history,  and  a 
good  one;  but  of  anything  rather  than  of  that  person's 
life.  Some  may  think  designs  of  that  nature  to  be,  like  the 

1  Six  Essays  on  Johnson,  pp.  9-11. 
*  Ibid.  p.  1 1 . 

3  Napier's  Johnsoniana,  p.  15;  Mrs.  Piozzi's  Anecdotes  of  Johnson, 
P- 3'. 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     127 

plots  of  Mr.  Bays,  good  only  to  bring  in  fine  things:  but  a 
life  should  be  a  picture;  which  cannot  be  good  if  the  pecu 
liar  features  whereby  the  subject  is  distinguished  from  all 
others,  are  left  out.  Nay,  scars  and  blemishes,  as  well  as 
beauties,  ought  to  be  expressed;  otherwise,  it  is  but  an 
outline  filled  up  with  roses  and  lilies."  l  True  it  is,  the  Life 
of  Johnson  is  not  perfect:  it  is,  however,  "a  picture"; 
it  is  not  "  an  outline  filled  up  with  roses  and  lilies." 

From  the  point  of  view  of  style,  while  the  Life  does  not 
attain  the  highest  rank,  it  is  yet  excellent. 2f  Although 
Boswell  belonged  to  the  formal  school  of  theV^eighteenth 
century,  he  yet  had  much  of  the  directness  and  clarity  of 
Dryden  and  Addison,  and  had  benefited  by  the  conversa-^ 
tion  of  Johnson  and  by  the  style  of  the  Lives  of  the  Poets.  / 
He  was,  moreover,  in  his  desire  to  educate  himself  away  ^ 
from  Scotticisms,  a  diligent  student  of  English  composition. 
He  did  not,  however,  possess  the  grace  and  charm  of  Gold 
smith.  It  would  be,  perhaps,  too  much  to  demand  that  one 
man  should  attain  the  highest  excellence  in  all  departments 
of  literary  composition.  Boswell  had  exemplified  the  method 
of  writing  biography;  there  were  yet  qualities  to  be  contri 
buted  to  the  general  form;  the  great  literary  biography — 
the  combination  of  artistry  and  lucid,  graceful,  charming 
style — was  yet  to  be  produced. 

Since  1791,  the  critics  have  been  busy  with  Boswell. 
What  they  have  said  can  in  no  way  influence  his  finished 
labours,  and  their  work  therefore  belongs  only  to  a  considera- 

1  Lives  of  the  Norths,  vol.  i.  p.  154,  edition  1826. 

1  It  is  not  going  too  far  to  agree  with  Percy  Fitzgerald :  "  Too  much 
cannot  be  said  of  Boswell's  style.  We  may  well  wonder  where  he 
attained  this  happy,  judicious  power  of  narrative,  so  limpid  and 
unaffected,  and  without  the  least  literary  realism,  or  attempt  at 
colouring  and  '  word-painting.'  His  phrases  and  words  are  admir 
ably  chosen,  clear  and  direct  without  the  least  pretence.  In  particu 
lar  passages,  there  is  dramatic  grouping  of  the  highest  kind." — Life 
of  James  Boswell,  vol.  ii.  p.  127. 


128  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

tion  of  the  development  of  biography  after  Boswell's  time. 
The  summary  of  one  modern  writer  may  yet  be  to  the 
purpose  here :  "  By  Mason  and  Boswell  a  species  of  litera 
ture  was  introduced  into  England  which  was  destined  to 
enjoy  a  popularity  that  never  stood  higher  than  it  does  at 
this  moment.  Biographies  had  up  to  this  time  been  perfunc 
tory  affairs,  either  trivial  and  unessential  collections  of 
anecdotes,  or  else  pompous  eulogies  from  which  the  breath 
of  life  was  absent.1  But  Mason  and  Boswell  made  their 
heroes  paint  their  own  portraits  by  the  skilful  interpolation 
of  letters,  by  the  use  of  anecdotes,  by  the  manipulation  of 
the  recollections  of  others;  they  adapted  to  biography  the 
newly  discovered  formulas  of  the  anti-romantic  novelists,2 
and  aimed  at  the  production  of  a  figure  that  should  be 
interesting,  lifelike  and  true.  .  .  .  Boswell  was  a  consum 
mate  artist,  but  his  sitter  gave  him  a  superb  opportunity. 
For  the  first  time,  perhaps,  in  the  history  of  literature,  a 
great  leader  of  intellectual  society  was  able  after  his  death 
to  carry  on  unabated,  and  even  heightened,  the  tyrannous 
ascendancy  of  his  living  mind.  .  .  .  Never  before  had  the 
salient  points  in  the  character  and  habits  of  a  man  of  genius 
been  noted  with  anything  approaching  to  this  exactitude 
and  copiousness,  and  we  ought  to  be  grateful  to  Boswell 
for  a  new  species  of  enjoyment."  3 

1  This  is  not  strictly  accurate,  as  has  been  shown  in  this  chapter. 

a  Rather,  the  novelists  adapted  the  methods  of  biography. 

'  Edmund  Gosse,  Modern  English  Literature,  pp.  252-3.  May  we 
not  also  be  grateful  that  Samuel  Parr  did  not  become  Johnson's 
biographer?  The  Rev.  Wm.  Field,  in  his  Memoirs  of  Parr,  vol.  i. 
pp.  164-5,  records  Parr's  own  conception  of  the  task:  "  '  I  once 
intended  to  write  Johnson's  Life  ;  and  I  had  read  through  three 
shelves  of  books  to  prepare  myself  for  it.  It  would  have  contained 
a  view  of  the  literature  of  Europe :  '  and — making  an  apology  for 
the  proud  consciousness  which  he  felt  of  his  own  ability — '  if  I  had 
written  it,'  continued  he,  '  it  would  have  been  the  third  most 
learned  work  that  has  ever  yet  appeared.'  To  explain  himself,  he 
afterwards  added,  '  The  most  learned  work  ever  published,  I  con 
sider  Bentley  On  the  Epistles  of  Phalaris  ;  the  next,  Salmasius  on 


MODERN  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY     129 

Thus,  at  the  close  of  the  eighteenth  century,  did  biography 
culminate  in  what  the  world  has  since  been  pleased  to 
recognise  as  the  true  type.  No  one  with  the  facts  before 
him  can  claim  for  Boswell  that  he  invented  a  new  form,  or 
wrote  a  perfect  specimen  of  biography;  but  no  one  can 
deny  that,  although  in  execution  he  fell  short  of  perfection 
(what  mortal  has  yet  attained  it  ?),  in  theory,  purpose,  plan, 
he  pointed  out  the  ideal.  He  was  not  an  inventor  or  dis 
coverer,  nor  was  he  a  mere  theoriser.  He  was,  in  the  field  of 
biography,  a  careful  student,  a  diligent  worker,  and,  if  not 
a  perfect,  at  least  a  scarcely  equalled,  artist.  The  producer 
of  the  great  type  did  not  live  long  to  enjoy  his  triumph: 
Boswell  died  May  19,  1795.  The  century  produced  no  more 
great  biographies:  there  were  no  more  Johnsons  for 
subjects;  no  more  Boswells  to  act  as  biographers.  To  the 
nineteenth  century,  however,  the  eighteenth  bequeathed 
a  noble  legacy. 

the  Hellenistic  language.'  On  a  third  occasion,  describing  the  nature 
of  his  intended  work,  and  alluding  to  Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson,  he 
said,  '  Mine  should  have  been,  not  the  droppings  of  his  lips,  but  the 
history  of  his  mind.'  " 


130  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


CHAPTER  VI 

THE    RISE    OF   ENGLISH    AUTOBIOGRAPHY    (720—1799) 

As  a  reader  of  biography  approaches  the  close  of  the 
eighteenth  century,  he  becomes  aware  that  autobiography 
is  assuming  a  position  of  the  first  importance.  The  state 
ments  of  Mason,  "  In  a  word,  Mr.  Gray  will  become  his  own 
biographer,"  and  of  Boswell,  "  Had  Dr.  Johnson  written 
his  own  life  .  .  .  the  world  would  probably  have  had  the 
most  perfect  example  of  biography  that  was  ever  exhibited," 
convince  us  that  biography  is  sure  to  become  largely  auto 
biographical  in  method.1  It  is  necessary,  then,  at  this  point, 
where  the  biography  and  the  autobiography  join  their 
currents,  to  trace  the  rise  of  the  latter  form  and  its  develop 
ment  to  the  close  of  the  eighteenth  century. 

First  of  all,  the  student  is  impressed  by  the  same  back 
wardness  in  development  that  was  evident  in  the  case  of 
biography.  Practically  nothing  in  the  way  of  autobiography 
had  been  published  until  after  the  middle  of  the  seventeenth 
century;  most  of  the  early  autobiographical  documents 
lay  in  manuscript  until  the  eighteenth  century  and  after. 
Moreover,  it  should  never  be  forgotten  that  even  the  word 
autobiography  is  modern:  according  to  Murray's  New 
English  Dictionary  thefirst  recorded  use  of  the  term  occurred 
in  1 809.2  Before  this  date,  the  autobiographical  form  passed 

1  One  recalls  Longfellow's  punning  entry  in  his  journal,  under 
date  of  Feb.  21,  1848:  "  What  is  autobiography  ?  What  biography 
ought  to  be." — S.  Longfellow,  Life  of  H.  W.  Longfellow,  vol.  ii.  p.  109. 

a  "  A  beautiful  anthology  may  be  formed  from  the  Portuguese 
poets,  but  they  have  no  great  poem  in  their  language.  The  most 
interesting,  and  the  one  which  best  pays  perusal,  has  obtained  no 
fame  in  its  own  country,  and  never  been  heard  of  beyond  it.  It  is 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         131 

under  various  names:  life  narrative  written  by  the  author 
himself,  memoirs,  journal,  diary,  biography  by  self,  history 
by  self,  etc. 

The  other  important  matter  to  be  kept  in  mind  is  the  fact 
that  the  autobiographical  element  is  everywhere  to  be 
found  in  literature.  Every  time  a  writer  puts  pen  to  paper 
he  is  in  one  way  or  another,  to  a  greater  or  less  extent, 
revealing  himself.  We  must,  however,  in  our  considerations 
be  careful.  There  may  be  autobiography  in  the  Anglo- 
Saxon  poems,  Beowulf,  Widsith  the  Far  Wanderer,  and  'The 
Lament  of  Deor,  as  well  as  in  many  another  piece  of  Old  and 
Early  English  literature  that  we  might  call  to  mind.  Suppose, 
however,  that  we  were  unacquainted  with  the  authorship 
of  Tennyson's  Maud,  and  that  we  should  say,  in  our  wisdom, 
Here  is  the  author  giving  an  account  of  his  own  life  experi 
ences!  The  whole  system  of  such  inference  is  dangerous. 
Are  Shakespeare's  Sonnets  autobiographical  ?  Wordsworth 
tells  us  * 

".  .  .  with  this  key 
Shakespeare  unlocked  his  heart;  " 

to  which  Browning  replies  a 

"  Did  Shakespeare?    If  so,  the  less  Shakespeare  he!  " 

After  careful  study  and  research,  Sidney  Lee  has  reached 
"  the  conviction  that  Shakespeare's  collection  of  sonnets  has 
no  reasonable  title  to  be  regarded  as  a  personal  or  auto 
biographical  narrative."  8  And  thus  it  goes.  Unless  we  are 
certain,  it  is  the  part  of  wisdom  not  to  claim  as  autobio- 

the  life  of  Francisco  Vieira,  the  painter,  the  best  artist  of  his  age, 
composed  by  himself.  Much  has  been  written  concerning  the  lives 
of  painters;  and  it  is  singular  that  this  very  amusing  and  unique 
specimen  of  auto-biography  should  have  been  entirely  overlooked." 
— Robert  Southey,  Quarterly  Review,  vol.  i.  p.  283,  May  1809.  See 
also  p.  386  of  the  same  volume  where  "  auto-biography  "  again 
occurs. 

1  In  Scorn  not  the  Sonnet.  •  In  House. 

•  Life  of  Shakespeare,  p.  viii. 


132  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

graphical  that  which  may  not  be  so.1  In  this  chapter,  there 
fore,  we  shall  limit  ourselves  to  those  productions  which 
are  truly  autobiographic,  or,  at  the  least,  autobiographic 
in  intention. 

So  far  as  this  form  is  concerned,  the  Latin  period  is  much 
less  important,  and  therefore  far  more  negligible  than  was 
the  case  in  our  consideration  of  biography.  Ecgwin  (or 
Egwin),  Bishop  of  Worcester,  who  died  about  720  A.D., 
is  reported  by  later  biographers  2  to  have  written  his  own 
life  and  is,  for  this  reason,  sometimes  called  the  first 
English  autobiographer.  Henry  Morley,  in  his  English 
Writers,  humorously  suggests  that  Ecgwin  might,  on 
account  of  the  many  impossible  tales  of  miracles  which  he 
told,  "  possibly  be  otherwise  ranked  with  greater  truth  as 
the  first  English  artist  in  prose  fiction."  s  When  we  come 
to  the  Venerable  Bede,  however,  we  have  a  genuine  piece 
of  self-biography — brief  though  it  may  be — written  about 
731.  This  sketch  is  appended  to  the  Ecclesiastical  History  of 
England  (sect.  454)  and  reads  thus : 

"  Being  born  in  the  territory  of  that  same  monastery  [of  the 
blessed  apostles  Peter  and  Paul,  which  is  atWearmouth  and  J arrow], 
I  was  given  by  the  care  of  my  relatives,  at  seven  years  of  age,  to  be 
educated  by  the  most  reverend  abbot  Benedict,  and  afterwards  by 
Ceolfrid ;  and  from  that  period,  spending  all  the  remaining  time  of  my 
life  in  that  monastery,  I  wholly  applied  myself  to  the  study  of  the  Scrip 
tures  ;  and  amidst  the  observance  of  regular  discipline,  and  the  daily 
care  of  singing  in  the  Church,  I  always  took  delight  in  learning,  teach 
ing,  and  writing.  In  the  nineteenth  year  of  my  age  I  received  deacon's 
orders;  in  the  thirtieth,  those  of  the  priesthood;  both  of  them  by 

1 1  have  read  Percy  Fitzgerald's  interesting  and  ingenious  volume, 
Boswell's  Autobiography,  the  main  thesis  of  which  is  that  the  Life 
of  Johnson  was  put  forth  as  "  a  disguised  life  of  Boswell  himself." 
For  many  reasons,  I  confess  myself  unconverted  to  Mr.  Fitzgerald's 
opinion. 

*  See  Chrontcon  Abbatiae  de  Evesham,  ad  annum  1418.  Edited  by 
William  Dunn  Macray,  1863  (Rolls  Series). 

8  Vol.  i.  pp.  338-40. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         133 

the  ministry  of  the  most  reverend  bishop  John,  and  by  order  of  the 
abbot  Ceolfrid.  From  which  time,  when  I  received  the  order  of 
priesthood,  till  the  fifty-ninth  year  of  my  age,  I  have  made  it  my 
business,  for  the  use  of  me  and  mine,  briefly  to  compile  out  of  the 
works  of  the  venerable  Fathers,  and  to  interpret  and  explain 
according  to  their  meaning,  (adding  somewhat  of  my  own,)  these 
following  pieces: — [here  follows  a  list  of  his  works]."  * 

For  our  purpose,  we  need  not  linger  amid  the  welter  of 
Latin  church  documents  in  the  centuries  which  succeeded 
Bede.  They  contain  little  of  intrinsic  value  as  documents 
of  self-revelation,  and  have  exerted  no  influence  on  auto 
biography  written  in  English.  Bede's  sketch  is  the  proto 
type  of  all  such  attempts  at  autobiography  among  early 
churchmen.  "  In  the  Middle  Ages,"  writes  Professor  Walter 
Raleigh,  "  a  writer  was  wholly  identified  with  his  work.  His 
personal  habits  and  private  vicissitudes  of  fortune  excited 
little  curiosity:  Vincent  of  Beauvais  and  Godfrey  of 
Viterbo  are  the  names  not  so  much  of  two  men  as  of  two 
books.  Literature  was  regarded  as  the  chief  means  of 
preserving  and  promulgating  ancient  truths  and  traditions; 
and  authors  were  mechanical  scribes,  recorders,  and  com 
pilers.  The  distinction  between  fact  and  fiction,  which  we 
make  to-day  with  so  airy  a  confidence,  was  hardly  known 
to  the  mediaeval  writer.  .  .  .  While  this  was  the  dominant 
conception  of  art  and  of  science,  of  history  and  of  literature, 
authors  were,  in  every  sense  of  the  word,  a  humble  class. 
When  it  was  their  function  to  instruct,  they  were  conduit 
pipes  for  the  wisdom  of  the  ages :  where  they  set  themselves 
to  amuse,  they  held  a  rank  not  far  above  that  of  the 
professional  jesters  and  minstrels  who  were  attached  as 
servitors  to  the  household  of  some  great  lord  or  king."  a 
From  such  men  we  do  not  look  for  any  valuable  self- 
records  or  introspective  documents.  To  all  practical  intent, 

Translation  of  Stevenson,  in  The  Church  Historians  of  England. 
Essays  on  Johnson,  pp.  98-100. 


134  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

therefore,  from  the  point  of  view  of  autobiography, 
the  period  from  731  to  1573  may  be  regarded  as  a  long 
blank. 

Nor,  for  the  same  reason,  need  we  linger  long  over  the 
autobiographies  written  in  Latin  by  other  than  churchmen. 
Among  them  is  one,  however,  that  for  several  reasons  should 
not  be  neglected  —  the  work  of  Thomas  Dempster,  the 
Scotchman,  whom  we  have  already  mentioned  as  the  com 
piler  of  the  Historia  Ecclesiastica  Gentis  Scotorum.  Dempster 
himself  looms  up  out  of  the  past  as  one  who  was  almost 
super-man — "  tall  above  the  stature  of  common  men;  with 
black  hair,  and  skin  well-nigh  of  the  same  colour;  his  head 
immense,  and  his  aspect  kingly;  his  strength  and  courage 
equal  to  that  of  a  soldier  "  ("  CaeterumfuitDempsterus  vir 
corpore,  &  animo  egregius ;  altitude  illi  super  mediocrem 
vulgaris  bominis  magnitudinem  ;  coma  subnigrior,  &  cuti 
color  non  longe  dispar  ;  caput  magnum  ac  totius  corporis 
babitus  plane  regius  ;  robur,  &  ferocitas,  quibus  vel  praestan- 
tissimum  militem  praestare  posset,  reque  ipsa  saepius  se  talem 
exhibuit ") — to  adopt  the  words  of  his  friend,  a  certain 
Matthaeus  Peregrinus,  who  added  a  supplement  to  Demp 
ster's  Autobiography.  This  formidable  giant,  described  by 
Rossi  as  "  a  man  formed  for  war  and  contention,  who 
hardly  ever  allowed  a  day  to  pass  without  fighting,  either 
with  his  sword  or  his  fists,"  seems  to  have  been  equally 
intense  in  applying  himself  to  mental  labour,  it  being  no 
uncommon  thing,  according  to  Peregrinus,  for  him  to  spend 
fourteen  hours  a  day  in  reading  ("  Indefessus  in  legendo, 
ita9  ut  quatuordecim  diei  boras  librorum  lectionem  se  con- 
tinuare  solitum  mibi  saepe  retulerit ").  Peregrinus  further 
states  that  Dempster's  memory  was  such  that  he  could 
give  the  context  of  any  passage  from  Greek  or  Latin  quoted 
to  him  ("  non  versus  poetae  alicuius  non  sensum  alterius 
scriptoris,  sen  Graeci,  seu  Latini  (aeque  enim  utrumque 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         135 

nor  at,)  quern  statim  cum  longa  verborum  praecedentium,  ac 
sequentum  serie  verbatim  referre  non  posset"). 

Dempster's  Autobiography  is  just  what  we  should  expect 
from  such  a  man,  and  it  may  well  be  that  his  friend  Pere- 
grinus  followed  him  in  habits  of  exaggeration  and  falsehood. 
The  narrative  is  not  long,  but  across  its  pages  flash  gleams 
of  a  laborious,  tempestuous,  grotesque  career,  darkened  now 
and  then  by  shadows  of  those  wild  days  in  Scotland  and 
other  European  countries.  There  are  in  the  work,  as  well 
in  the  main  story  and  the  minor  episodes  as  in  the  manner 
of  the  narrative,  the  germs  of  much  fiction :  how  much  is 
true,  how  much  is  fabrication,  we  do  not  know.  At  the  very 
outset,  Dempster  tells  us  that  he  was  one  of  three  children 
at  a  single  birth,  the  twenty-fourth  of  twenty-nine  children, 
and  that  five  of  the  most  important  events  of  his  life 
happened  on  the  anniversary  of  his  birth  ("  Thomas 
Dempsterus  .  .  .  natus  est  .  .  .  partu  Urgemino  vigesimus 
quartus  e  liberis  viginti  novem  quos  ex  una  uxore  pater  sus- 
tulit  anno  MDlxxtx,  ipso  pervigilio  D.  Bartholomaei,  quo 
die  veluti  fatali  patriam  deseruit,  lauream  in  iure  Doctoratus 
est  assecutus,  Academiae  Nemausensi  adscriptus,  difficilis 
Tolosae  litis  exitum  optatum  sortitus,  demum  Serenissimi 
Magni  Hetruriae  Duds  Academicis  adnumeratus  Pisanis"). 

As  an  example  of  his  remarkable  precocity,  he  assures 
us  that  at  the  age  of  three  years  he  mastered  the  alphabet  in 
the  brief  space  of  one  hour  ("  triennis  omnia  elementa  unius 
horae  spatio  exacte  didicit ").  Henry  Bradley  says  *  "  there 
seems  reason  to  suspect  that  he  may  have  dated  his  birth 
a  few  years  too  late  with  the  very  object  of  enhancing  the 
marvel  of  his  youthful  precocity  in  learning,"  and  con 
tinues  with  the  remark  that  "  if  the  date  assigned  by  him 
be  correct,  his  career  is  certainly  extraordinary,  even  for 
an  age  which  abounded  in  juvenile  prodigies."  The  ability 

1  Dictionary  of  National  Biography,  article  "  Thomas  Dempster." 


136  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

to  see  a  good  story,  indeed,  was  inherent  in  Dempster's 
nature.  We  have  only  to  mention  the  episode  in  the  life 
of  his  brother  James.  In  a  few  lines,  bristling  with  sug 
gestion,  Dempster  tells  us  how  James  incurred  his  father's 
hatred  by  marrying  Isabella  Gordon,  the  father's  mistress; 
and  how,  later,  James,  collecting  a  band  of  wild  Gordons, 
his  wife's  kinsmen,  made  an  attack  upon  his  father's  retinue 
in  a  lonely  region,  where  two  were  killed  on  either  side, 
many  were  wounded,  and  the  father  left  with  seven  bullets 
in  his  leg  and  a  sword  cut  on  his  head.  Without  doubt, 
Dempster's  story  of  his  own  life — whether  it  be  true  to  the 
letter  or  fiction  to  the  core — is  the  most  readable  article  in 
his  laboured  volume.1  Its  very  manner  and  content  earn 
for  it  a  place  among  autobiographies  composed  by  Britons. 
Autobiography  in  English  dates  from  the  poetical  narra 
tive  of  Thomas  Tusser,  published  in  its  first  form  in  1573 
as  a  part  of  the  author's  Five  Hundred  Points  of  Good 
Husbandry.  The  manner  of  the  work  may  be  judged  from 
the  following  stanzas: 

"  It  came  to  pass,  that  born  I  was 
Of  lineage  good,  of  gentle  blood, 
In  Essex  layer,  in  village  fair, 

That  Rivenhall  hight: 
Which  village  ly'd,  by  Banktree  side; 
There  spend  did  I  mine  infancy, 
There  then  my  name,  in  honest  fame, 
Remain'd  in  sight. 

"  From  Paul's  I  went,  to  Eton  sent, 
To  learn  straightways,  the  Latin  phrase, 
Where  fifty-three  stripes,  given  to  me 

At  once  I  had, 

For  fault  but  small,  or  none  at  all, 
It  came  to  pass,  thus  beat  I  was : 
See,  Udall,  see,  the  mercy  of  thee, 

To  me,  poor  lad. 

1  The  Autobiography  is  the  last  article  in  the  Historia  Ecclesiastica 
Gentis  Scotorum. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         137 

"  To  London  hence,  to  Cambridge  thence 
With  thanks  to  thee,  O  Trinity, 
That  to  thy  Hall,  so  passing  all, 

I  got  at  last. 

There  joy  I  felt,  there  trim  I  dwelt, 
There  heaven  from  hell,  I  shifted  well 
With  learned  men,  a  number  then, 

The  time  I  past."  l 

In  this  jingling,  somewhat  vague  manner,  without  dates 
and  usually  without  any  careful  reference  to  places  or 
particulars,  Tusser  continues  through  forty  stanzas  to 
relate  the  outward  events  of  his  life.  Thus  much  he  gave  as 
his  "  Life."  We  can  learn  far  more  of  the  inner  man  from 
his  statement  of  the  "  Principal  Points  of  Religion  "  and 
"  The  Author's  Belief "  than  from  the  "  Life "  poem. 
This  fact  only  demonstrates  that  we  have  made  an  advance 
in  our  demands  upon  autobiographers :  whereas  it  used  to 
be  the  custom  to  set  forth  outward  events,  it  is  to-day  the 
custom  to  reveal,  so  far,  of  course,  as  it  may  be  possible  for 
the  author  to  reveal,  the  inner  man — to  give  the  breath  of 
distinguishing  individuality.  This  much  may  be  said  by 
way  of  anticipation:  it  remains  to  be  seen  how  long  auto 
biography  continued  to  be  objective. 

After  Tusser,  we  have  four  brief  autobiographies 
published  within  a  reasonably  short  time  after  their  com 
position.  The  few  pages  of  the  Life  of  Sir  Thomas  Bodley 
were,  as  he  records,  "  written  with  mine  own  hand,  Anno 
1609,  December  nth,"  although  they  were  not  printed 
until  1647.  The  oldest  prose  autobiography  in  English, 
therefore,  reckoning  from  date  of  composition,  Sir  Thomas 
Bodley's  Life  ranks  second  in  date  of  publication.  It  was 
preceded  by  An  Apology  written  by  Richard  Vennar  of 
Lincolnes  Inne,  abusively  called  England }s  Joy,  printed  in 

1  Stanzas  3,  8,  and  9,  from  Five  Hundred  Points  of  Good  Husbandry 
(London,  1812),  pp.  315-7. 


138  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

London  in  I6I4.1  Vennar  wrote  his  Apology  to  defend 
himself  against  charges  of  "  slander,  deceipt,  fraud,  and 
cozenage,"  or,  as  he  declares  on  the  title-page,  "  to  repress 
the  contagious  ruptures  of  the  infected  multitude,"  incited 
against  him  by  the  questionable  management  of  his  play 
England's  Joy,  and  by  other  unfortunate  circumstances  of 
which  his  life  seems  to  have  been  only  too  full.  While 
Vennar  gives  much  information  in  regard  to  himself 
throughout  the  Apology,  only  the  first  part  is  avowedly 
autobiographical,  and  the  whole  of  the  production  is 
marked  by  the  dominant  note  of  defence  which  occa 
sioned  its  composition.  The  autobiographical  fragment  of 
Margaret  Cavendish  Duchess  of  Newcastle  appeared 
originally  in  a  scarce  and  curious  folio  called  Nature's 
Pictures  drawn  by  Fancies  Pencil  to  the  Life,  printed  in 
London,  1656.  Ten  years  later,  in  1666,  the  first  edition  of 
John  Bunyan's  Grace  Abounding  to  the  Chief  of  Sinners  was 
given  to  the  public.  Thus,  within  the  period  of  practically 
a  century  after  the  appearance  of  Thomas  Tusser's  poetical 
effort,  the  reading  public  had  only  these  four  works  to 
satisfy  whatever  appetite  for  autobiography  it  may  have 
had.  With  the  exception  of  Bunyan's  work,  the  other 
sketches  are  only  brief  narratives  of  events,  domestic  or 
political.  There  seems  to  have  been,  in  truth,  a  desire  on 
the  part  of  all  writers  to  reserve  anything  in  the  nature  of 
a  record  of  the  inner  life.  Sir  Thomas  Bodley  mentions 
"  some  other  private  reasons,  which  I  reserve  unto  myself." 
Margaret  Cavendish  says :  "  But  now  I  have  declared  to 
my  readers  my  birth,  breeding,  and  actions  to  this  part  of 
my  life,  I  mean  the  material  parts,"  and  then  assures  us 

1  The  British  Museum  Library  contains  what  is  said  to  be  the  only- 
perfect  copy  of  this  book.  J.  P.  Collier  has  reprinted  it  in  vol.  iii. 
of  his  Illustrations  of  Old  English  Literature,  in  the  introduction  to 
which  he  erroneously  states  that  it  is  "  the  oldest  piece  of  prose 
autobiography  in  our  language." 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         139 

that  she  has  written  the  account  simply  "  for  my  own  sake 
.  .  .  lest  after  ages  should  mistake  in  not  knowing  I  was 
.  .  .  second  wife  to  the  Lord  Marquis  of  Newcastle;  for 
my  Lord  having  had  two  wives,  I  might  easily  have  been 
mistaken,  especially  if  I  should  die  and  my  Lord  marry 
again."  Bunyan,  on  the  other  hand,  reduces  to  the 
minimum  references  to  mere  worldly  affairs.  "  It  is  not 
his  autobiography,  but  his  religious  feelings  and  experi 
ences  that  he  records."  We  see,  in  these  works,  a  fore 
shadowing  of  the  two  types  of  later  autobiography:  the 
one  type,  the  record  chiefly  of  outward  events,  the  writer 
considering  himself  merely  a  part  of  the  historical  current; 
the  other,  the  record  of  inner  events,  of  the  soul's  struggles 
on  the  journey  through  life,  the  writer  considering  himself 
as  individual,  well-nigh  isolated. 

We  come  now  to  a  consideration  of  the  delayed  publica 
tion  of  early  autobiographies;  a  condition  of  affairs 
analogous  to  that  which  we  have  already  considered  in  the 
case  of  a  number  of  early  biographies.  The  seventeenth 
century  produced  a  considerable  number  of  autobiographi 
cal  documents,  few  of  which  were  given  to  the  public  until 
well  into  the  eighteenth  and  nineteenth  centuries.  The 
following  table  will  at  once  indicate  the  extent  of  this  delay 
in  the  case  of  seventeen  of  the  more  important  works : 

Died.         Autobiography 

first  printed. 

Lucy  Hutchinson         .          .          .  1620  1806 

Lord  Herbert  of  Cherbury    .          .  1648  1764 

Sir  Simonds  D'Ewes    .          .          .  1650  1845 

Sir  Kenelm  Digby        .          .          .  1665  1827 

Robert  Blair       ....  1666  1754  (fragments) 

Edward  Hyde  Lord  Clarendon      .  1674  1759 

James  Fraser  of  Brae  .          .          .  1699  1738 

John  Livingstone         .          .          .  1672  1754 

Walter  Pringle    ....  1667  1723 

Anne  Harrison  Lady  Fanshawe    .  1680  1829 

William  Lilly      ....  1681  1715 


140  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Died.  Autobiography 
first  printed. 
Anthony     Ashley     Cooper     Lord 

Shaftesbury          .          .          .1683  1859 

James  Melvill     ....      1614  1829 

Sir  James  Melville  of  Hallhill        .      1617  1683 

Sir  John  Reresby         .          .          .      1689  1734  (in  part) 

John  Bramston  ....      1700  1845 

Anne  Lady  Halkett     .         .         .     1699  1875  (at  length) 

Such  delay,  of  course,  interfered  with,  any  contemporaneous 
and  continuous  development  of  the  autobiographical  type. 
So  long  as  these  documents  lay  in  manuscript  there  could 
be  no  criticism  to  direct,  no  comparative  study,  nothing  to 
whet  the  desire  for  improvement  of  the  type,  no  school  (if 
we  may  so  term  it)  of  autobiography.  The  manner  of  the 
narrative  would  thus  depend  upon  the  whim  of  the  writer; 
or,  at  least,  would  follow  closely  the  bent  of  his  mind.  There 
would  be  no  regular  flow  of  autobiographical  record;  the 
impulse  to  record  one's  own  life  would  manifest  itself  only 
at  intervals.  "  Undeniably,  autobiographical  writing  in 
England — with  the  single  exception  of  the  Quaker  group — 
is  sporadic  until  the  end  of  the  seventeenth  century." 1 

The  Quaker  group,  of  which  mention  has  just  been  made, 
is  "  unconnected  with  the  secular  personal  records  of  the 
time."  Mrs.  Anna  Robeson  Burr,  in  her  valuable  and  highly 
suggestive  book,  The  Autobiography,  has  given  the  results 
of  her  careful  study  of  this  group.  Little  more  can  be  done 
here  than  to  give  her  statements.  "  The  English  Quakers 
form  a  continuous  and  compact  group,  running  steadily, 
without  variation  in  manner  or  method  from  1624  to  1840. 
No  other  religious  movement  has  left  so  large  a  mass  of 
classified  material.  The  autobiographical  intention  with  the 
early  Friends  became  a  dogma,  as  it  were,  of  their  belief, 
and  to  leave  behind  a  journal  or  an  autobiography  was 
almost  a  requirement  of  faith.  The  Quaker  journals  form  in 
1  Burr,  The  Autobiography,  p.  206. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         141 

themselves  a  complete  library :  they  are  full  of  incident  and 
adventure  on  land  and  sea,  in  the  old  world  and  the  new; 
and  they  display  upon  every  page  qualities  of  courage  and 
steadfastness,  of  simplicity  and  kindness  which  move  the 
heart.  At  the  same  time,  they  show  a  common  lack  of 
imagination  in  dealing  with  their  creed;  there  is  astonish 
ingly  little  vitality  to  their  religious  expression.  When  they 
write  of  perplexities,  of  conversion,  of  prayer,  of  meeting, 
they  all  employ  the  same  style,  the  same  terms  of  expres 
sion.  In  such  passages  it  is  hard  to  tell  if  you  are  reading 
Woolman,  or  Ellwood,  Chalkley,  Davies,  Edmundson,  or 
Crook.  Though  there  exists  the  quaintest  individuality  in 
the  character  of  these  men,  yet  the  religious  colour  of  their 
minds  appears  to  be  as  uniform  and  as  dun-coloured  as  was 
the  prescribed  dress  of  their  society.  The  stamp  of  George 
Fox  is  upon  every  piece  of  these  differing  metals,  and  we 
are  led,  therefore,  back  to  Fox's  Journal,  not  only  as  an 
influential  personal  narrative,  but  as  the  earliest  important 
self-study  in  English,  and  one  of  the  few  later  documents 
which  has  an  influence  approaching  that  of  our  three 
primary  types  [Caesar's  Commentaries,  Augustine's  Con 
fessions,  and  Jerome  Cardan's  De  Vita  Propria  Liber\"  1 

It  is  no  part  of  our  purpose  to  discuss  in  detail  the  various 
autobiographies  that  have  been  mentioned.  Having  thus 
far  pointed  out  the  general  trend  of  autobiographical 
narrative  as  far  as  the  Quaker  group,  we  may  now  turn  to 
a  consideration  of  a  few  of  the  outstanding  characteristics 
of  the  more  noteworthy  examples — those  which,  by  reason 
of  certain  intrinsic  merits,  command  our  attention.  Just 
as  the  autobiography  of  the  period  is  sporadic,  so  are  its 
manifestations  diverse.  The  full  and  free  play  of  individual 
ity  is  clearly  seen  in  the  manner  of  these  early  narratives. 

1  The  Autobiography,  pp.  235-6  and  418.  See  the  Appendix,  pp. 
298-9,  for  a  list  of  the  Quaker  narratives. 


142  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

In  any  consideration  of  autobiography  the  Life  of  Lord 
Herbert  of  Cherbury  written  by  himself  will  ever  occupy  a 
conspicuous  place,  and  with  it  we  may  here  begin.  This 
narrative,  written  when  its  author  was  past  sixty,  was 
probably  never  completed.  Lord  Herbert  carefully  states 
his  reason  for  undertaking  the  task :  "  I  have  thought  fit  to 
relate  to  my  posterity  those  passages  of  my  life  which  I 
conceive  may  best  declare  me,  and  be  most  useful  to  them." 
"  Those  passages  of  my  life  which  best  declare  me  " :  this 
purpose  the  writer  kept  carefully  before  his  mind,  and  what 
he  set  out  to  do,  he  did.  "  Foibles,  passions,  perhaps  some 
vanity,  surely  some  wrong-headedness ;  these  he  scorned 
to  conceal,  for  he  sought  truth,  wrote  on  truth,  was  truth: 
he  honestly  told  when  he  had  missed  or  mistaken  it."  He 
puts  down  in  black  and  white  what  most  men  would  wish  to 
conceal.  There  is  withal  a  bold  sweep  to  Lord  Herbert's 
narrative  which  carries  the  reader  steadily  forward.  The 
restless,  reckless  spirit  of  the  man,  evidently  liking  a  good 
fight  as  well  as  a  good  meal,  is  seen  in  almost  every  page. 
We  recognise  him,  at  once,  as  akin  to  those  other  spirits  of 
his  age — Sir  Philip  Sidney,  Sir  Francis  Drake,  Sir  Walter 
Raleigh — and  catch  a  vision  of  the  fulness  of  life  which 
made  England  the  leading  nation  of  the  earth.  "  This  is 
perhaps  the  most  extraordinary  account  that  ever  was  given 
seriously  by  a  wise  man  of  himself,"  wrote  Horace  Walpole: 
an  opinion  with  which  all  who  read  Lord  Herbert's  life 
narrative  must  agree. 

In  the  Private  Memoirs  of  Sir  Kenelm  Digby  we  have  a 
narrative  remarkable  for  a  different  reason.  From  the  point 
of  view  of  inception,  purpose,  and  method  Digby's  narra 
tive  is  unusual.  It  was  written,  he  tells  us,  in  "  the  few 
empty  spaces  of  tedious  hours,  which  would  have  been  in 
danger  to  have  been  worse  filled  if  I  had  not  taken  hold  of 
this  occasion  of  diversion."  In  short,  Sir  Kenelm  asserts 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         143 

that  he  wrote  the  Memoirs  "  without  any  art  or  care,"  to 
preserve  his  virtue.  "  You  that  read,  then,"  he  continues, 
"  may  take  notice  that  after  a  long  and  violent  storm  which 
took  me  between  Rhodes  and  Candie,  and  separated  me 
from  all  the  vessels  of  my  fleet,  it  was  my  misfortune  to  fall 
in  with  the  island  of  Milo;  where,  while  I  stayed  to  mend 
the  defects  of  a  leaky  ship,  and  to  expect  the  relics  of  the 
tempest's  fury,  I  was  courteously  invited  ashore  by  a  person 
of  quality  of  that  place.  ...  I  passed  my  time  there  with 
much  solitude,  and  my  best  entertainment  was  with  my 
own  thoughts;  which  being  contrary  to  the  manner  of 
most  men,  unless  it  be  when  melancholy  hath  seized  their 
minds,  who  deem  no  state  delightful  that  is  not  quickened 
by  exterior  pleasures,  I  soon  perceived  that  my  courteous 
host  was  much  troubled  at  my  retirement,  and  omitted 
nothing  that  might  avail  to  divert  me  from  it;  and  among 
other  things,  made  me  a  liberal  offer  to  interest  me  in  the 
good  graces  of  several  of  the  most  noted  beauties  of  that 
place,  who  in  all  ages  have  been  known  to  be  no  niggards 
of  their  favours,  which  .might  peradventure  have  been 
welcomely  accepted  by  another  that  had  like  me  had  youth, 
strength,  and  a  long  time  of  being  at  sea  to  excuse  him  if 
he  had  yielded  to  such  a  temptation.  But  I,  that  had  fresh 
in  my  soul  the  idea  of  so  divine  and  virtuous  a  beauty  [his 
wife]  that  others,  in  balance  with  hers,  did  but  show  the 
weakness  and  misery  of  their  sex,  thought  it  no  mastery  to 
overcome  it :  but  yet  was  in  some  perplexity  how  to  refuse 
my  friend's  courtesy,  without  seeming  uncivil.  In  the  end 
...  I  concluded  that  the  best  way  for  me  would  be  to 
pretend  some  serious  business,  which  of  necessity  did  call 
upon  me  to  write  many  dispatches,  and  into  several  places 
.  .  .  but  my  facility  of  setting  down  on  paper  my  low  con 
ceptions  having  been  ever  very  great,  I  soon  made  an  end 
of  what  concerned  business.  ...  I  deemed  it  both  a  good 


144  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

diversion  for  the  present,  and  pains  that  would  hereafter 
administer  me  much  content,  to  set  down  in  writing  my 
wandering  fantasies."  x  The  narrative  is  almost  wholly  an 
account  of  the  love  between  himself  and  his  wife,  the  Lady 
Venetia  Stanley,  "  whose  memory  begot  this  discourse." 
"  I  will  set  down,"  writes  Digby  at  the  outset,  "  in  the  best 
manner  that  I  can,  the  beginning,  progress  and  consum 
mation  of  that  excellent  love  which  only  makes  me  believe 
that  our  pilgrimage  in  this  world  is  not  indifferently  laid 
upon  all  persons  for  a  curse."  The  work  is  necessarily, 
therefore,  a  combination  of  biography  and  autobiography, 
and  in  manner  approaches  fiction.  Digby  uses  assumed 
names  for  all  the  characters  and  places  mentioned  in  his 
narrative.  It  is  but  a  step  from  his  method  to  pure  auto 
biographical  fiction.  Sir  Kenelm  left  directions  that  after  his 
death  the  manuscript  of  this  narrative  should  be  "  con 
verted  into  a  clear  flame."  "  That  the  manuscript  was 
not  destroyed,"  writes  the  editor  of  the  printed  work,  "  is 
fortunate  for  those  who  are  gratified  by  perusing  the 
description  which  genius  gives  of  itself,  as  well  as  for 
Digby's  memory,  as  it  contains  many  facts  highly  credit 
able  to  his  character,  and  tends,  in  some  degree,  to  redeem 
that  of  his  wife;  whilst  much  light  is  thrown  by  it  upon  the 
early  part  of  his  career.  As  a  piece  of  autobiography  it  is, 
perhaps,  one  of  the  most  extraordinary  which  is  extant, 
and  every  line  bears  striking  evidence  of  the  peculiar  temper 
and  still  more  singular  opinions  of  the  writer."  2 

The  most  elaborate  life-narrative  to  come  to  print  before 
the  close  of  the  seventeenth  century  was  the  Reliquiae 
Baxterianae  :  or  Mr.  Richard  Baxter's  Narrative  of  the  most 
Memorable  Passages  of  his  Life  and  Times.  This  great  work 
was  written  in  instalments  by  Baxter  between  1664  and  the 

1  Private  Memoirs  of  Sir  Kenelm  Digby ,  1827,  pp.  321-5. 
8  Ibid.  pp.  xliii-xlv. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY          145 

time  of  his  death  in  1691.  It  was  "  faithfully  published 
from  his  own  original  manuscripts  by  Matthew  Sylvester," 
at  London,  in  1696.  It  is  a  monumental  work:  in  the  words 
of  the  editor,  "  You  have  here  the  history  of  God's  early, 
kind  and  powerful  dealings  with  him  ...  of  his  ministerial 
self  .  .  .  and  some  tastes  and  informations  of  his  thoughts 
and  studies;  and  of  his  books  and  letters  to  divers  persons 
of  different  stations  and  quality,  and  also  of  what  pens  and 
spirits  wrote  against  him."  It  is  not,  however,  in  the 
personal  record  that  Sylvester  was  interested,  and  here  we 
get  the  notion  of  a  contemporary  opinion  of  the  purpose  and 
value  of  autobiography.  "  But  the  great  things,"  writes 
the  editor,  "  which  are  the  spirit  of  this  history  are  the 
accounts  he  gives  of  the  original  springs  and  sources  of  all 
these  revolutions,  distractions,  and  disasters  which  hap 
pened  from  the  Civil  Wars  betwixt  King  Charles  the  First, 
to  the  Restoration  of  Charles  the  Second,  and  what  was 
consequent  after  thereupon  to  Church  and  State." 

It  was  the  desire  of  Edmund  Calamy  to  edit  these 
Reliquiae  Baxterianae  and  to  reproduce  them  in  the  form  of 
an  abridgment.  "  Mr.  Orme,"  writes  Sir  James  Stephen, 
"  laments  the  obstinacy  of  the  author's  literary  executor, 
which  forbade  the  execution  of  this  design.  Few  who  know 
the  book  will  agree  with  him.  A  strange  chaos  indeed  it  is. 
But  Grainger  has  well  said  of  the  writer,  that  *  men  of  his 
size  are  not  to  be  drawn  in  miniature.'  Large  as  life,  and 
finished  to  the  most  minute  detail,  his  own  portrait,  from 
his  own  hand,  exhibits  to  the  curious  in  such  things  a  delinea 
tion  of  which  they  would  not  willingly  spare  a  single  stroke, 
and  which  would  have  lost  all  its  force  and  freedom  if 
reduced  and  varnished  by  any  other  limner,  however  prac 
tised,  or  however  felicitous.  There  he  stands,  an  intellectual 
giant  as  he  was,  playing  with  his  quill  as  Hercules  with  the 
distaff,  his  very  sport  a  labour  under  which  any  one  but 

K 


146  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

himself  would  have  staggered.  Towards  the  close  of  the 
first  book  occurs  a  passage,  which,  though  often  repub- 
lished,  and  familiar  to  most  students  of  English  literature, 
must  yet  be  noticed  as  the  most  impressive  record  in  our 
language,  if  not  in  any  tongue,  of  the  gradual  ripening  of  a 
powerful  mind  under  the  culture  of  incessant  study,  wide 
experience,  and  anxious  self-observation.  Mental  anatomy, 
conducted  by  a  hand  at  once  so  delicate  and  so  firm,  and 
comparisons,  so  exquisitely  just,  between  the  impressions 
and  impulses  of  youth,  and  the  tranquil  conclusion  of  old 
age,  bring  his  career  of  strife  and  trouble  to  a  close  of 
unexpected  and  welcome  serenity.  In  the  full  maturity  of 
such  knowledge  as  is  to  be  acquired  on  earth  of  the  mysteries 
of  our  mortal  and  of  our  immortal  existence,  the  old  man 
returns  at  last  for  repose  to  the  elementary  truths,  the 
simple  lessons,  and  the  confiding  affections  of  his  childhood ; 
and  writes  an  unintended  commentary,  of  unrivalled  force 
and  beauty,  on  the  inspired  declaration,  that  to  *  become 
as  little  children  '  is  the  indispensable,  though  arduous, 
condition  of  attaining  the  true  heavenly  wisdom.  To 
substitute  for  this  self-portraiture  any  other  analysis  *  of 
Baxter's  intellectual  and  moral  character  would  be  a  vain 
attempt."  2 

The  predominating  historical  features  of  the  Reliquiae 
Baxterianae  are  characteristic  of  the  later  life  narratives  of 
Sir  Simonds  D'Ewes,  Edward  Hyde  Lord  Clarendon,  Sir 
James  Melville  of  Hallhill,  Sir  John  Reresby,  Anthony 
Ashley  Cooper  Lord  Shaftesbury,  and  a  number  of  others 
of  lesser  importance.  So  far  as  there  is  a  common  element 

1  Both  Calamy  and  William  Orme  have  produced  abridgments 
of  the  work.  Calamy  remarks:  "  I  have  reduced  things  to  that 
method  which  appeared  to  me  most  proper.  Personal  reflections  and 
little  privacies  I  have  dropped  "  [italics  are  mine].  An  Abridgement  of 
Mr.  Richard  Baxter's  History  of  his  Life  and  Times  :  By  Edmund 
Calamy,  1702.  Calamy  cast  the  whole  into  the  third  person. 

8  Essays  in  Ecclesiastical  Biography,  vol.  ii.  pp.  59-61  (3rd  ed.). 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         147 

binding  all  these  autobiographical  documents  together,  it 
may  be  seen  in  the  subordination  of  the  subjective,  personal 
account  to  the  record  of  contemporary  history.  Auto 
biography  is  yet  under  the  domination  of  history.  In  this 
particular,  the  development  of  the  form  runs  parallel  to 
that  of  biography. 

In  view  of  the  fact  that  The  Journal  of  George  Fox  is  the 
great  prototype  of  that  large  body  of  Quaker  autobio 
graphical  literature  which  continued  until  near  the  middle 
of  the  nineteenth  century,  we  need  take  it  alone  into 
consideration  here.  The  "  Great  Jornall  "  was  prepared 
by  Fox  for  the  purpose  of  giving  to  the  public  a  record  of 
his  ministry  and  of  his  religious  experience — it  is  a  religious 
autobiography.  It  was  first  prepared  for  printing  by 
Thomas  Ellwood,  Milton's  friend  and  pupil,  and  appeared 
with  a  preface  written  by  William  Penn,  in  1694;  in  1911 
the  manuscript  was  reproduced  for  the  first  time  in  its 
entirety.  In  the  words  of  T.  Edmund  Harvey,  it  "  was 
doubtless  regarded  by  George  Fox  rather  as  the  rough 
material  than  the  final  form  of  the  work  to  be  printed  after 
his  death.  .  .  .  We  may  ask  ourselves  how  far  The  Journal 
as  we  now  possess  it  enables  us  to  form  an  accurate  portrait 
of  Fox  as  a  man.  We  gain  many  little  details  which  hitherto 
were  lacking;  here  and  there  we  may  regret  a  certain  note 
of  seeming  harshness,  or  what  appears  to  be  too  great  an 
insistence  on  Fox's  personal  part  in  the  story.  But  this  is 
more  than  counterbalanced  by  the  intense  reality  of  all  the 
narrative:  it  is  instinct  with  a  sense  of  truthfulness.  .  .  . 
In  one  other  most  important  respect  the  portrait  of  George 
Fox  given  us  in  his  Journal  is  incomplete  and  must  be 
supplemented  by  contemporary  correspondence  and  the 
evidence  of  those  who  knew  him.  We  realise,  as  we  read 
his  narrative,  something  of  the  magnetic  power  which 
attracted  his  hearers,  but  only  here  and  there  have  we  a 


148  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

glimpse  of  that  tenderer  side  of  his  nature  of  which  we  read 
elsewhere.  .  .  .  Hardly  more  than  a  hint  is  given  in  The 
Journal  of  his  strong  family  affection.  .  .  .  But  this  was 
inevitable  from  the  nature  of  The  Journal,  which  was  never 
intended  to  be  an  autobiography  in  the  full  sense  of  the 
word.  Yet  if  the  picture  which  The  Journal  gives  is  neces 
sarily  incomplete,  it  is  more  living  and  convincing  than 
many  a  fuller  portrait  of  themselves  which  other  writers 
have  left.  As  we  read  its  pages  there  stands  out  clearly 
before  us  the  great,  strong  personality  of  its  writer,  with 
all  his  shrewdness  and  simplicity,  his  untiring  devotion 
to  his  message  and  his  power  of  passing  it  on  to  others. 
The  prophet's  fire,  the  wise  man's  counsel,  stirring  record 
of  hardships  bravely  borne,  quaint  and  homely  touches 
of  human  kindness,  all  are  here."  1 

We  have  now  seen  that  from  the  first  brief  accounts  of 
domestic  or  political  events — the  records  of  the  merely 
objective — autobiography  has  steadily  shown  a  tendency  to 
become  more  detailed  and  subjective.  The  religious  type  of 
autobiography  as  exemplified  in  The  Journal  of  George 
Fox  deepened  the  consciousness  of  the  inner,  subjective 
life.  Man  was  beginning  to  study  himself  as  apart  from 
the  great  stream  of  humanity.  In  the  eighteenth  century, 
contemporaneous  with  the  Quaker  group  of  religious  auto- 
biographers,  we  find  "  the  first  small  cluster  of  genuinely 
scientific  self-students."  8  This  cluster  is  composed  of  seven 
whose  works  are  similar  in  idea  and  in  method:  John 
Flamsteed,  Edmund  Calamy,  Roger  North,  David  Hume, 
Benjamin  Franklin,  Edward  Gibbon,  and  Joseph  Priestley, 
of  whom  Franklin  has  been  accounted  greatest.  Four  others 
of  this  cluster,  John  Dunton,  William  Whiston,  George 

1  The  Journal  of  George  Fox  :  edited  from  the  MSS.  by  Norman 
Penney.  With  an  introduction  by  T.  Edmund  Harvey.  Cambridge, 
1911.  Vol.  i.  pp.  xxvii-xxx. 

"  See  Appendix,  pp.  299-300. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         149 

Whitefield,    and    Henry    Alline,    have    written    religious 
confessions  wholly  independent  as  to  creed. 

Edmund  Calamy,  D.D.,  of  whom  we  have  already  spoken 
in  connexion  with  the  Reliquiae  JBaxterianae,  upon  his 
death  in  1731  left  an  extended  historical  account  of  his  life 
which  was  not  printed  until  1829.  It  is  significant  of  the 
place  that  self-narrative  was  assuming  at  this  period,  as 
well  as  of  the  care  that  was  taken  to  study  such  models  as 
then  existed,  to  find  that  Calamy  devotes  a  long  introduc 
tion,  occupying  fifty-one  pages  in  the  printed  edition,  to  a 
discussion  of  both  foreign  and  English  models  of  auto 
biography.  After  this  discussion  of  all  such  works  as  were 
known  to  him,  he  states  that  it  is  his  intention  "  to  give 
what  account  I  am  able  of  the  most  noted  passages  of  my 
life;  the  Providence  of  God  towards  me,  the  times  I  have 
lived  in,  and  the  remarks  I  have  made  on  what  occurred, 
as  far  as  it  fell  under  my  notice."  The  work  shows  that 
Calamy  was  yet  under  the  bondage  of  history,  his  long 
narrative,  like  that  of  Richard  Baxter,  being  much  devoted 
to  the  "  record  of  the  times  in  which  he  lived." 

David  Hume,  Benjamin  Franklin,  and  Edward  Gibbon 
begin  a  new  era.  These  three  men  in  their  comparatively 
brief,  pointed,  well-written  narratives,  break  away  from 
the  bondage  of  history  and  write  of  themselves.  Here  firsr*1 
we  see  a  clear-cut,  definite  sense  of  proportion:  we  see 
David  Hume,  Benjamin  Franklin,  and  Edward  Gibbon 
occupying  the  centre  of  the  picture,  with  all  other  persons 
properly  subordinated,  and  all  other  events,  save  those 
which  closely  and  intimately  influenced  them  or  were 
influenced  by  them,  duly  reduced  to  the  minimum.  Of  the 
three  works,  only  that  of  Hume  was  left  in  finished  form  for 
publication;  his  work,  too,  is  the  briefest  of  the  three. 
Hume's  brevity  was  a  part  of  his  plan :  "  It  is  difficult  for  a 
man  to  speak  long  of  himself  without  vanity,  therefore  I 


ISO  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

shall  be  short."  His  further  statement,  that  "  this  narra 
tive  shall  contain  little  more  than  the  history  of  my  writings, 
as  indeed  almost  all  my  life  has  been  spent  in  literary 
pursuits  and  occupations,"  shows  us  that  literary  auto- 
biographers  were  under  the  same  spell  as  were  the  bio 
graphers  of  literary  men  of  this  period  (1766).  The  purely 
literary  life  was  thought  to  be  hardly  worth  recording. 

Franklin's  Autobiography  is  one  of  the  most  straight 
forward  and  unstudied  narratives  of  its  kind  in  the  English 
language,  if  not  in  the  world.  Franklin  was  not  over 
whelmed  by  any  sense  of  his  own  greatness,  nor  did  he 
have  any  false  pride  or  desire  to  represent  events  in  his  life 
as  of  more  importance  than  they  really  were.  In  conse 
quence,  he  has  given  us  a  human  document  of  the  greatest 
value:  from  it  we  are  able  to  learn  Franklin,  the  man. 
Franklin,  the  philosopher;  Franklin,  the  statesman; 
Franklin,  the  philanthropist — these  were  but  manifesta 
tions  of  Franklin,  the  man;  and  we  are  able  clearly  to 
understand  these  manifestations  only  as  we  understand 
the  man  beneath  them  all.  Francis  Jeffrey  evidently 
missed  this  great  truth.  Jeffrey  confessed  that  the  Auto 
biography  was  "  written  with  great  simplicity  and  liveli 
ness,"  yet  found  fault  with  it  because  it  "  contains  too 
many  trifling  details  and  anecdotes  of  obscure  individuals."1 
In  other  words,  had  Franklin  written  a  long  impersonal 
account  of  the  most  important  events  of  his  life,  Jeffrey 
would  no  doubt  have  applauded  the  performance.  Frank 
lin,  however,  sure  of  himself,  proceeded  in  his  own  way: 
he  knew  that  man's  life  is  made  up  mostly  of  "  trifling 
details,"  and  that  the  manner  in  which  any  man  conducts 
himself  in  a  critical  moment  is  determined  by  the  manner 
in  which  he  has  conducted  himself  in  thousands  of  smaller 

1  Edinburgh  Review,  July  1806;  Jeffrey's  Contributions  to  Edin 
burgh  Review,  vol.  i.  p.  156. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         151 

transactions  in  the  past.  He  knew  that  the  Franklin  who 
"  stood  before  kings  "  was  the  same  Franklin  who  entered 
Philadelphia  eating  one  roll  while  he  carried  the  others 
under  his  arms.  We  can  imagine  him  in  his  old  age  looking 
back  with  greater  pleasure  to  his  youthful  entrance  into 
Philadelphia  than  to  the  triumphs  of  his  later  years.  He 
did  not  forget  to  tell  us  how  the  small  events  conspired  to 
make  him  great.  For  this,  among  many  other  reasons, 
Franklin's  Autobiography  takes  its  place  in  the  forefront 
of  such  narratives,  and  remains  one  of  the  great  books  of  all 
time. 

Franklin's  work  constitutes  the  one  classic  American 
autobiography.  "It  is  strange,**  comments  Mrs.  Burr, 
"  that  this  example  should  be  at  once  so  distinctive  and  so 
typical,  even  at  that  date,  of  a  separate  nationality.  Typical 
it  still  remains,  for  even  now  the  ideal  American  is  Franklin 
in  little.  The  figure  he  presents  —  prudent,  sagacious, 
prosperous — above  all  prosperous — with  a  healthy  moral 
code  not  in  the  least  fanatic  or  strained;  with  humour, 
energy,  and  importance  in  affairs — is  not  this  still  the 
American  ideal  at  its  best?  Franklin,  that  large  embodi 
ment  of  somewhat  small  virtues,  has  left  us  a  balanced  and 
complete  self-delineation,  after  reading  which  we  have  but 
one  regret — that  his  are  qualities  which  do  not  bear  reduc 
tion  from  the  heroic  standard.  It  is  not  easy  to  say  whether 
the  influence  of  his  record  has  been  more  hurtful  or  useful. 
Its  balance  is  extraordinary:  the  writer  is  wholly  reason 
able;  he  is  moved  by  common  sense;  he  is  consistently 
utilitarian  in  every  event  of  his  life.  His  attitude  towards 
what  he  terms  his  errata  is  as  gentle  as  we  could  wish  it 
possible  to  be  towards  our  own.  Interesting  and  significant 
is  the  fact  that  his  first  erratum  is  a  *  violation  of  trust 
respecting  money  ' ;  which  might  well  be  written  in  black 
and  white  letters  over  the  whole  United  States,  from  Maine 


152  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

to  California."  Not  without  reason  does  Mrs.  Burr  close 
with  the  fervent  wish,  "  Could  we  have  pointed,  as  the 
quintessence  of  our  national  character,  but  to  some 
courageous  idealist !  "  * 

.  It  is  interesting  to  record  that  Franklin's  Autobiography 
was  first  printed  in  a  French  translation  in  1791.  "  From 
this  point,"  affirms  John  Bigelow,  "  the  history  of  this 
manuscript  is  a  succession  of  surprises,  which  has  scarce 
any  parallel  in  ancient  or  modern  bibliography,  with  the 
possible  exception  of  the  writings  of  Aristotle  and  the 
Table  Talk  of  Martin  Luther."  The  manuscript  consists  of 
four  parts :  the  first  was  written  during  Franklin's  residence 
in  England  as  agent  of  the  Colonies,  in  1771,  and  covers 
that  part  of  his  life  from  his  birth  in  1706  to  his  marriage  in 
1730;  to  this  point  it  was  written  for  the  gratification  of 
his  family.  The  second  part,  undertaken  at  the  solicitation 
of  friends,  was  written  at  Passy,  while  Franklin  was 
Minister  to  France.  The  third  portion  was  begun  in  August 
1788,  after  Franklin's  return  to  Philadelphia,  and  brings  the 
narrative  down  to  1757.  This  third  portion  ends  the  Auto 
biography  so  far  as  printed  to  1867,  when  John  Bigelow 
edited  the  first  edition  ever  printed  from  the  original 
manuscript,  which  edition  contained  a  fourth  part,  consist 
ing  of  a  few  pages  written  in  1789.  Mr.  Bigelow,  who  was 
fortunate  enough  to  secure  in  France  the  original  Franklin 
manuscript,  made  a  careful  study  of  the  different  published 
versions  of  the  Autobiography,  and  in  1909  published  the 
story  of  the  fortunes  of  the  manuscript  in  an  introduction 
to  a  new  edition  of  the  narrative.2 

It  is  remarkable,  yet  characteristic  of  most  English 
autobiography,  that  two  of  the  greatest  of  such  works  have 

1  The  Autobiography,  pp.  209-10. 

8  The  Autobiography  of  Benjamin  Franklin.  The  Unmutilated  and 
Correct  Version.  Compiled  and  edited,  with  notes,  by  John  Bigelow. 
G.  P.  Putnam's  Sons. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         153 

come  to  us  in  an  unfinished — almost  fragmentary — state. 
Franklin  wrote  Imrriedly  and  unstudiedly  with  no  eye  to 
publication.  Edward  Gibbon,  on  the  other  hand,  experi 
mented  with  and  elaborated  his  life-story  most  carefully; 
yet  he,  like  Franklin,  left  the  parts  to  be  forged  together 
by  another  hand. 

Between  1788  and  1793,  Gibbon  wrote  six  different 
sketches  of  his  life,  and  a  seventh  fragmentary  sketch. 
These  sketches  "are  not  quite  continuous;  they  partly 
recount  the  same  incidents  in  different  form;  they  are 
written  in  different  tones ;  and  yet  no  one  of  them  is  com 
plete;  none  of  them  seemed  plainly  designed  to  supersede 
the  rest."  These  sketches  were  put  in  order  by  Lord 
Sheffield  and  as  the  Memoirs  of  the  Life  and  Writings  of 
Edward  Gibbon  were  published  in  1799.  Not  until  1894  was 
the  public  given  the  complete  text  of  Gibbon's  narrative. 
"  A  piece  most  elaborately  composed  by  one  of  the  greatest 
writers  who  ever  used  our  language,  an  autobiography 
often  pronounced  to  be  the  best  we  possess,  is  now  proved 
to  be  in  no  sense  the  simple  work  of  that  illustrious  pen, 
but  to  have  been  dexterously  pieced  together  out  of  seven 
fragmentary  sketches  and  adapted  into  a  single  and 
coherent  narrative."  1  One  note  which  Gibbon  appended 
to  a  part  of  his  narrative  indicates  his  attitude  towards 
much  of  the  autobiography  that  appeared  before  his  death. 
"  It  would  most  assuredly  be  in  my  power,"  he  writes, 
"  to  amuse  the  reader  with  a  gallery  of  portraits  and  a 
collection  of  anecdotes ;  but  I  have  always  condemned  the 
practice  of  transforming  a  private  memorial  into  a  vehicle 
of  satire  and  praise."  The  emphasis  which  Gibbon  here 

1  Introduction  to  The  Autobiographies  of  Edward  Gibbon.  With 
an  Introduction  by  the  Earl  of  Sheffield.  Edited  by  John  Murray. 
"  The  reader  may  now  rest  assured  that,  for  the  first  time,  he  has 
before  him  the  autobiographic  sketches  of  Edward  Gibbon  in  the 
exact  form  in  which  he  left  them  at  his  death." 


154  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

insists  should  be  thrown  on  the  person  who  is  the  subject 
of  the  autobiography  completed  for  the  eighteenth  century 
the  line  of  organic  development  and  established  for  the 
future  a  canon  of  unity  which,  if  not  always  followed,  is 
yet  permanently  recognised  as  binding. 

We  have  already  seen  how  the  public  interest  in  bio 
graphy  had  grown  and  developed  to  the  middle  of  the 
eighteenth  century.  A  similar  interest  in  autobiography, 
long  recognised  simply  as  a  branch  of  biography  and  long 
known  as  self-biography,  ran  parallel  with  the  interest  in 
pure  biography.  In  1759,  Johnson  put  the  stamp  of  his 
authority  on  the  form  in  an  Idler  essay : 

"  Those  relations  are  therefore  commonly  of  most  value  in  which 
the  writer  tells  his  own  story.  He  that  recounts  the  life  of  another 
commonly  dwells  most  upon  conspicuous  events,  lessens  the  familiar 
ity  of  his  tale  to  increase  its  dignity,  shows  his  favourite  at  a  distance 
decorated  and  magnified  like  the  ancient  actors  in  their  tragic  dress, 
and  endeavours  to  hide  the  man  that  he  may  produce  a  hero. 

"  But  if  it  be  true  which  was  said  by  a  French  prince,  That  no  man 
was  a  hero  to  the  servants  of  his  chamber,  it  is  equally  true  that 
every  man  is  yet  less  a  hero  to  himself.  He  that  is  most  elevated 
above  the  crowd  by  the  importance  of  his  employments,  or  the 
reputation  of  his  genius,  feels  himself  affected  by  fame  or  business 
but  as  they  influence  his  domestic  life.  The  high  and  low,  as  they 
have  the  same  faculties  and  the  same  senses,  have  no  less  similitude 
in  their  pains  and  pleasures.  The  sensations  are  the  same  in  all, 
though  produced  by  very  different  occasions.  The  prince  feels  the 
same  pain  when  an  invader  seizes  a  province,  as  the  farmer  when 
a  thief  drives  away  his  cow.  Men  thus  equal  in  themselves  will 
appear  equal  in  honest  and  impartial  biography ;  and  those  whom 
fortune  or  nature  place  at  the  greatest  distance  may  afford  instruc 
tion  to  each  other. 

' '  The  writer  of  his  own  life  has  at  least  the  first  qualification  of  an 
historian,  the  knowledge  of  the  truth;  and  though  it  may  be  plau 
sibly  objected  that  his  temptations  to  disguise  it  are  equal  to  his 
opportunities  of  knowing  it,  yet  I  cannot  but  think  that  impartiality 
may  be  expected  with  equal  confidence  from  him  that  relates  the 
passages  of  his  own  life,  as  from  him  that  delivers  the  transactions 
of  another. 


ENGLISH  AUTOBIOGRAPHY         155 

"  Certainty  of  knowledge  not  only  excludes  mistake,  but  fortifies 
veracity.  What  we  collect  by  conjecture,  and  by  conjecture  only 
can  one  man  judge  of  another's  motives  or  sentiments,  is  easily 
modified  by  fancy  or  by  desire;  as  objects  imperfectly  discerned 
take  forms  from  the  hope  or  fear  of  the  beholder.  But  that  which 
is  fully  known  cannot  be  falsified  but  with  reluctance  of  under 
standing,  and  alarm  of  conscience:  of  understanding,  the  lover  of 
truth;  of  conscience,  the  sentinel  of  virtue. 

"  He  that  writes  the  life  of  another  is  either  his  friend  or  his  enemy, 
and  wishes  either  to  exalt  his  praise  or  aggravate  his  infamy;  many 
temptations  to  falsehood  will  occur  in  the  disguise  of  passions,  too 
specious  to  fear  much  resistance.  Love  of  virtue  will  animate  pane 
gyric,  and  hatred  of  wickedness  embitter  censure.  The  zeal  of  grati 
tude,  the  ardour  of  patriotism,  fondness  for  an  opinion,  or  fidelity 
to  a  party,  may  easily  overpower  the  vigilance  of  a  mind  habitually 
well  disposed,  and  prevail  over  unassisted  and  unfriended  veracity. 

"  But  he  that  speaks  of  himself  has  no  motive  to  falsehood  or  par 
tiality  except  self-love,  by  which  all  have  so  often  been  betrayed 
that  we  are  on  the  watch  against  its  artifices.  He  that  writes  an 
apology  for  a  single  action,  to  confute  an  accusation,  to  recommend 
himself  to  favour,  is  indeed  always  to  be  suspected  of  favouring  his 
own  cause;  but  he  that  sits  down  calmly  and  voluntarily  to  review 
his  life  for  the  admonition  of  posterity,  or  to  amuse  himself,  and 
leaves  this  account  unpublished,  may  be  commonly  presumed  to  tell 
truth,  since  falsehood  cannot  appease  his  own  mind,  and  fame  will 
not  be  heard  beneath  the  tomb."  l 

Not  only  was  autobiography  thus  shaping  the  course 
of  biography,  it  was  having  a  strong  influence  as  well  upon 
the  direction  of  English  fiction.  Mrs.  Burr  contends  that 
"  to  claim  that  the  imaginary  autobiography — Robinson 
Crusoe,  let  us  say — owes  its  being  to  some  genuine  auto 
biography  would  be  to  claim  too  much."  When  we  see, 
however,  that  biography  shaped  the  course  of  much  early 
fiction  and  that  autobiography  preceded  the  autobiographi 
cal  novel,  we  must  conclude  that  at  least  the  spirit  of 
biography  and  autobiography  was  so  potent  at  this  time 
as  to  give  direction  to  the  fiction.  A  careful  student  of 
English  fiction  has  given  it  as  his  opinion  that  "  a  quick 
1  Idler,  No.  84,  November  24,  1759. 


156  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

offshoot  of  the  biography  was  the  autobiography,  which, 
as  a  man  in  giving  a  sympathetic  account  of  himself  is 
likely  to  run  into  poetry,  came  very  close  to  being  a  novel 
[as  in  the  case  of  Sir  Kenelm  Digby].  .  .  .  Margaret 
Duchess  of  Newcastle's  Autobiography,  published  in  1656 
in  a  volume  of  tales,  is  a  famous  account  of  a  family  in 
which  *  all  the  brothers  were  brave,  and  all  the  sisters 
virtuous.'  Bunyan's  Grace  Abounding  is  a  story  of  the  fierce 
struggles  between  the  spirit  and  the  flesh,  and  of  the  final 
triumph  of  the  spirit.  This  autobiographical  method  of 
dealing  with  events,  partly  or  wholly  fictitious,  has  been  a 
favourite  with  all  our  novelists,  except  with  the  very  great 
est;  and  it  is  more  employed  to-day  than  ever  before."  1 

As  we  come  to  the  end  of  the  eighteenth  century,  we 
thus  witness  a  point  of  culmination  in  the  development  of 
both  biography  and  autobiography.  Although  the  auto 
biographical  form  had  up  to  this  time  been  considered  only 
a  branch  of  biography — so  much  so,  that  it  had  no  dis 
tinguishing  name  until  1809 — it  had  nevertheless  developed 
independently,  and  latterly  had  influenced  biography  much 
more  than  it  had  been  influenced  by  that  form.  After  the 
work  of  Mason  and  Boswell,  and  the  promulgation  of 
Johnson's  opinion,  the  threads  of  biography  and  auto 
biography  unite,  that  of  autobiography  ever  predominating 
in  the  pattern,  and  growing  ever  brighter  and  clearer.  As 
Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson  in  1791  marks  the  high  point 
reached  by  biography  in  the  eighteenth  century,  so  the 
narratives  of  Hume,  Franklin,  and  Gibbon — the  latter 
appearing  in  1799 — mark  the  high  point  of  autobiography. 
From  this  time  forward,  all  biography  is  autobiographical 
in  method. 

1  Cross,  Development  of  the  English  Novel,  p.  22. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  lym  CENTURY    157 
CHAPTER  VII 

BIOGRAPHY    IN    THE    NINETEENTH    CENTURY 

"  WHATEVER  reason  there  might  have  been  in  former  days 
to  complain  of  the  want  of  due  respect  to  the  memory  of 
distinguished  persons,  it  can  hardly  be  said  of  our  times 
that  an  indifference  prevails  in  regard  to  departed  merit. 
Instead  of  lamenting  with  the  great  Lord  Bacon  that  c  The 
writing  of  Lives  is  not  more  frequent,'  we  could,  perhaps 
with  more  propriety,  wish  that  the  practice  were  either 
limited  or  better  directed.  ...  Of  late  years,  thanks  to 
the  officious  zeal  of  friendship,  and  the  active  industry  of 
literary  undertakers,  biographical  memoirs  have  become 
as  multitudinous,  prolix,  and  veracious  as  epitaphs  in  a 
country  churchyard."  Thus  wrote  John  Watkins  in  iSzi.1 
His  words  may  well  stand  at  the  beginning  of  any  discussion 
of  biography  in  the  nineteenth  century,  for  in  this  century 
the  writing  of  biography  became  a  business.  The  output 
has  been  enormous,  and  a  reader  stands  bewildered  before 
the  rows  upon  rows  of  biographical  volumes  which  con 
front  him  upon  library  shelves.  It  is  no  longer  possible  for 
one  to  discuss  all  the  works  that  have  been  published,  nor, 
happily,  is  it  necessary.  The  main  line  of  development  is 
obvious. 

The  course  of  English  biography  since  the  beginning  of 
the  nineteenth  century  has  been  determined  by  two  influ 
ences:  that  exerted  by  BoswelTs  Life  of  Johnson,  and  that 
similar,  but  more  powerful  influence,  exerted  by  auto 
biography.  This  statement  may  call  for  a  little  explanatory 
1  In  the  preface  to  his  Universal  Biographical  Dictionary. 


158  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

substantiation,  as  there  is  no  doubt  misunderstanding  in 
regard  to  its  full  import.  For  example,  Percy  Fitzgerald  has 
contended  that  "  during  the  last  hundred  years  there  is 
not  a  single  instance  of  any  work  that  was  written  on 
Boswell's  extraordinary  system."  "  Boswell,"  writes  Mr. 
Fitzgerald,  "  was  attached  to  Johnson  as  a  '  reporter '  of 
his  sayings  and  doings,  and  the  bulk  of  his  book  is  formed 
from  his  own  private  diary  or  journal,  artistically  revised 
and  abstracted.  His  accounts  of  other  persons  came  from 
the  same  source,  viz.,  his  private  diary.  In  '  the  new  era 
in  biography  '  we  cannot  reckon  on  such  an  exceptional 
combination  as  this."1  So  far,  true;  Mr.  Fitzgerald, 
however,  omits  entirely  reference  to  the  autobiographical 
method  adopted  by  Boswell — that  method  of  employing,  as 
a  part  of  the  narrative,  Johnson's  own  letters,  diaries,  and 
published  works.  To  be  sure,  Boswell  scored  an  unusual 
success  in  reporting  Johnson's  conversation,  the  result  of 
"  the  fortunate  accident  "  of  Johnson's  being  a  remarkable 
talker  and  Boswell's  being  a  remarkable  reporter.  We  must 
not,  for  the  reason  that  the  record  of  conversation  in  Bos 
well's  book  is  so  rich  and  full,  forget  that  such  record  is  yet 
only  a  part  of  the  method.  As  a  matter  of  fact,  and  in 
summation  of  this  point,  it  is  not  going  too  far  to  say  that 
every  biography  of  any  importance  since  the  days  of 
Boswell's  Johnson  has  employed,  with  necessary  variations 
of  course,  the  methods  of  that  great  Life.  Even  Mr.  Fitz 
gerald's  Life  of  Boswell  is  but  a  variant  of  the  Boswell  model. 
The  direct  influence  of  Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson  is  difficult 
to  trace:  without  having  ever  been  translated  into  any 
foreign  language,  this  book  has  undoubtedly  done  more  than 
any  other  single  work  of  its  kind  to  point  the  world  to  the 
true  method  of  biography. 

"  There  are  few  copious  and  profound  lives  of  eminent 
1  The  Life  of  James  Boswell,  vol.  ii.  p.  282,  note. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    159 


men,"  wrote  Sir  Egerton  Brydges  in  1834,  "  to  which  trie 
persons  recorded  have  not  by  their  own  pens  afforded  a 
large  portion  of  the  materials.  Almost  all  other  lives  are 
comparatively  dry  and  barren."  *  What  Mr.  Brydges  has 
recorded,  thus  early  in  the  nineteenth  century,  as  his  own 
conviction,  has  remained  permanently  and  increasingly 
true.  Whenever  a  man  has  left  an  autobiography,  that  has 
become  the  basis  of  any  attempted  biography;  in  the 
absence  of  any  such  autobiographical  document,  there  has 
been  a  turning  to  journals,  diaries,  letters,  recorded  con 
versations  —  to  anything,  in  fact,  which  might  help  the 
biographer  to  follow  the  autobiographical  method. 

The  Bos  well-autobiographical  method  has  its  pitfalls. 
"  Boswell,  the  prince  of  biographers,"  writes  Sir  James 
Stephen,  "  has  well  nigh  ruined  the  art  of  biography.  For 
like  every  other  art,  it  has  its  laws,  or  rather  is  bound  by 
those  laws  to  which  all  composition  is  subject,  whether  the 
pen  or  the  pencil,  the  chisel  or  the  musical  chords,  be  the 
instrument  with  which  we  work.  Of  those  canons,  the  chief 
is,  that  the  artist  must  aim  at  unity  of  effect,  and  must 
therefore  bring  all  the  subordinate  parts  of  his  design  into 
a  tributary  dependence  on  his  principal  object.  Boswell 
(a  man  of  true  genius,  however  coarse  his  feelings,  and 
however  flagrant  his  self-conceit)  knew  how  to  extract 
from  every  incident  of  his  hero's  life,  and  from  the  meanest 
alike  and  the  noblest  of  his  hero's  associates,  a  series  of 
ever-varying  illustrations  and  embellishments  of  his  hero's 
character.  The  imagination  of  Cervantes  scarcely  produced 
a  portrait  more  single,  harmonious,  and  prominent,  in  the 
centre  of  innumerable  sketches,  and  of  groups  which  fill 
without  overcrowding  the  canvas.  The  imitators  of  this 
great  master  have  aspired  to  the  same  success  by  the  simple 
collocation  of  all  facts,  all  letters,  and  all  sayings,  from 
1  Autobiography,  vol.  i.  p.  321. 


160  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

which  the  moral,  intellectual,  or  social  nature  of  the  main 
figure  on  their  biographical  easel  may  be  inferred.  But  in 
order  to  truth  of  effect,  a  narrator  must  suppress  much  of 
the  whole  truth.  Charles  V.  of  Spain,  and  Charles  I.  of 
England,  still  live  in  picture  as  they  lived  in  the  flesh, 
because  Titian  and  Vandyke  knew  how  to  exclude,  to  con 
ceal,  and  to  diminish,  as  well  as  how  to  copy.  Imagination 
cannot  do  her  work  unless  she  be  free  in  the  choice  of  her 
materials,  and  if  the  work  of  the  imagination  be  undone, 
nothing  is  done  which  any  distant  times  will  hoard  as  a 
part  of  their  literary  inheritance."  x  We  may  well  keep 
this  paragraph  in  mind  as  we  consider  the  biographical 
contribution  of  the  years  following  Boswell. 

The  first  great  biography  of  the  nineteenth  century,  a 
work  which  has  by  many  critics  been  ranked  as  second  only 
to  BoswelPs  Johnson,  is  John  Gibson  Lockhart's  Life  of 
Sir  Walter  Scott  (1836-8).  It  is  to  this  work  that  we  may 
turn  for  confirmation  of  the  influence  exerted  by  the 
Boswell-autobiographical  method.  Lockhart  informs  us 
that  he  had  made  substantial  progress  in  composing  the 
biography  of  Scott,  before  an  autobiographical  fragment, 
composed  by  Scott  in  1808,  was  discovered  in  an  old  cabinet 
at  Abbotsford.  "  This  fortunate  accident,"  wrote  Lockhart, 
"  rendered  it  necessary  that  I  should  altogether  remodel 
the  work  which  I  had  commenced.  The  first  chapter  .  .  . 
consists  of  the  Ashestiel  fragment;  which  gives  a  clear 
outline  of  his  early  life  down  to  the  period  of  his  call  to  the 
Bar — July  1792.  All  the  notes  appended  to  this  chapter 
are  also  by  himself.  They  are  in  a  handwriting  very  different 
from  the  text,  and  seem,  from  various  circumstances,  to 
have  been  added  in  1826.  It  appeared  to  me,  however,  that 
the  author's  modesty  had  prevented  him  from  telling  the 
story  of  his  youth  with  that  fulness  of  detail  which  would 

1  Essays  in  Ecclesiastical  Biography,  vol.  ii.  pp.  286-7  (3rd  ed.). 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19x11  CENTURY    161 

now  satisfy  the  public.  I  have  therefore  recast  my  own 
collections  as  to  the  period  in  question,  and  presented  the 
substance  of  them,  in  five  succeeding  chapters,  as  illustra 
tions  of  his  too  brief  autobiography.  This  procedure  has 
been  attended  with  many  obvious  disadvantages;  but  I 
greatly  prefer  it  to  printing  the  precious  fragment  in  an 
appendix."  1  In  this  manner  does  Lockhart  acknowledge 
the  pre-eminent  value  of  the  autobiographical  method.  As 
to  the  method  followed  by  Lockhart  throughout  the 
remainder  of  the  long  biography,  he  may  again  speak  for 
himself:  "  I  have  .  .  .  endeavoured  to  lay  before  the 
reader  those  parts  of  Sir  Walter's  character  to  which  we 
have  access,  as  they  were  indicated  in  his  sayings  and  doings 
through  the  long  series  of  his  years — making  use,  whenever 
it  was  possible,  of  his  own  letters  and  diaries  rather  than 
of  any  other  materials; — but  refrained  from  obtruding 
almost  anything  of  comment.  It  was  my  wish  to  let  the 
character  develop  itself."  2  In  other  words,  in  the  Life  of 
Scott  we  have  BoswelPs  method  adapted  to  the  purposes 
and  manner  of  Lockhart.3 

The  Life  of  Scott  has  been  freely  censured  and  copiously 
praised.  Leslie  Stephen  says  that  it  "  may  safely  be  de 
scribed  as,  next  to  BoswelTs  Johnson,  the  best  in  the  lan 
guage."  4  Professor  Saintsbury  refers  to  BoswelPs  work 
as  "  the  only  possible  rival  "  of  Lockhart's;  and  goes  on  to 
say  that  "  the  taste  and  spirit  of  Lockhart's  book  are  not 
less  admirable  than  the  skill  of  its  arrangement  and  the 
competency  of  its  writing;  nor  would  it  be  easily  possible 
to  find  a  happier  adjustment  in  this  respect  in  the  whole 

1  Preface,  Life  of  Scott. 

9  Life  of  Scott,  vol.  vii.  p.  398. 

3  See  Life  of  Scott,  vol.  iv.  pp.  150-1,  for  Lockhart's  reasons  for 
not  recording  Scott's  familiar  conversation.  Lockhart  undoubtedly 
realised  that  he  did  not  possess  Bos  well's  gift  for  reporting  conversa 
tion. 

•  In  Dictionary  of  National  Biography,  article  "  Lockhart." 

L 


i62  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

annals  of  biography."  l  "  It  is  an  achievement,"  writes 
Professor  Hugh  Walker,  "  which  has  very  rarely  been 
rivalled."  2  It  is  needful,  in  the  face  of  such  enthusiastic 
praise,  to  look  somewhat  on  the  other  side.  Especially  is 
it  valuable,  in  considering  the  evolution  of  the  biographical 
form,  to  ascertain  whether  Lockhart  has  made  sufficient 
advance  over  the  work  of  Boswell  to  entitle  him  to  an 
equality  of  rank. 

We  may  best  begin  with  one  of  Lockhart's  own  estimates. 
"  My  sole  object,"  wrote  Lockhart  in  a  letter  (January 
1837)  to  Will  Laidlaw,  "  is  to  do  him  justice,  or  rather  to 
let  him  do  himself  justice,  by  so  contriving  it  that  he  shall 
be,  as  far  as  possible  from  first  to  last,  his  own  historio 
grapher,  and  I  have  therefore  willingly  expended  the  time 
that  would  have  sufficed  for  writing  a  dozen  books  on  what 
will  be  no  more  than  the  compilation  of  one."  8  With  this 
estimate  we  may  well  consider  what  Thomas  Carlyle  wrote 
in  what  Mr.  Lang  pronounces  "  the  only  contemporary 
reviewal  that  holds  its  ground."  4  Lockhart's  work,  writes 
Carlyle,  "  is  not  so  much  a  composition  as  what  we  may 
call  a  compilation  well  done.  Neither  is  this  a  task  of  no 
difficulty;  this  too  is  a  task  that  may  be  performed  with 
extremely  various  degrees  of  merit:  from  the  Life  and 
Correspondence  of  Hannah  More,  for  instance,  up  to  this 
Life  of  Scott,  there  is  a  wide  range  indeed.  ...  To  picture 
forth  the  Life  of  Scott  according  to  any  rules  of  art  or 
composition,  so  that  a  reader,  on  adequately  examining  it, 
might  say  to  himself,  *  There  is  Scott,  there  is  the  physiog 
nomy  and  meaning  of  Scott's  appearance  and  transit  on  this 
earth;  such  was  he  by  nature,  so  did  the  world  act  on  him, 
so  he  on  the  world,  with  such  result  and  significance  for 

1  A  History  of  Nineteenth  Century  Literature,  p.  193. 
8  The  Literature  of  the  Victorian  Era,  p.  924. 

3  Quoted  in  Andrew  Lang's  Lift  of  Lockhart,  vol.  ii.  p.  117. 

4  Ibid.  p.  119. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    163 

himself  and  us : '  this  was  by  no  manner  of  means  Mr. 
Lockhart's  plan.  A  plan  which,  it  is  rashly  said,  should 
preside  over  every  biography !  "  1 

Carlyle  lamented,  too,  the  great  length  of  the  biography; 
he  reviewed  it  before  the  publication  of  the  seventh  and 
last  volume,  a  fact  that  Mr.  Lang  deplores.  It  is  doubtful, 
however,  whether  the  seventh  volume,  which  contains 
most  certainly  the  best  of  Lockhart's  performance,  would 
have  altered  Carlyle's  opinion  to  any  great  extent:  he 
would  merely  have  insisted  that  there  should  have  been 
more  compression — more  composition.  "  The  physiognomy 
of  Scott,"  thus  wrote  Carlyle  in  the  aforementioned  review, 
"  will  not  be  much  altered  for  us  by  that  seventh  volume; 
the  prior  six  have  altered  it  but  little; — as,  indeed,  a  man 
who  has  written  some  two  hundred  volumes  of  his  own,  and 
lived  for  thirty  years  amid  the  universal  speech  of  friends 
must  have  already  left  some  likeness  of  himself.  .  .  .  And, 
in  the  mean  while,  study  to  think  it  nothing  miraculous 
that  seven  biographical  volumes  are  given  where  one  had 
been  better."  "  Scott's  biography,"  concludes  Carlyle,  "  if 
uncomposed,  lies  printed  and  indestructible  here,  in  the 
elementary  state,  and  can  at  any  time  be  composed,  if 
necessary,  by  whosoever  has  a  call  to  it." 

Now  that  enough  time  has  elapsed  for  us  to  get  a  proper 
perspective,  we  must  admit  that  Carlyle's  criticism  is  right 
and  just:  his  review  remains  the  best  word  on  the  subject. 
The  Life  of  Scott  is  much  too  long;  if  "  a  work  of  thorough 
craft,"  as  we  may  well  admit  it  to  be,  it  is  yet  far  from  being 
a  work  of  art.2  The  material  lies  there  in  "  the  elementary 
state " :  a  reader  travels  laboriously  through  the  vast 

1  Review  of  Lockhart's  Scott. 

1  ".  .  .  Lockhart's  merit  is  mainly  due  to  the  excellence  and 
the  abundance  of  the  raw  material  provided  for  him  in  Scott's 
ample  journals  and  correspondence." — Lee,  Principles  of  Biography 
p.  49- 


1 64  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

tract  of  eighty-four  chapters,  and  not  infrequently,  in  the 
all  but  interminable  wilderness,  well-nigh  loses  sight  of 
the  figure  of  Sir  Walter,  or  at  best,  sees  him  but  dimly. 
There  are  masses  of  documents — letters,  diaries,  journals, 
extracts  from  prefaces — yet  there  is  little  selection;  the 
reader  must  devour  the  whole  feast.  The  biography  is  a 
mine  to  be  worked:  it  contains  rich  stores  of  precious  ore; 
the  reader,  however,  must  do  much  toilsome  digging.  It  is 
scarcely  too  much  to  say  that  "  the  features  of  the  man  are 
nowhere  united  into  a  portrait,  but  left  to  the  reader  to 
unite  as  he  may;  a  task  which,  to  most  readers,  will  be  hard 
enough."  1  One  has  the  feeling,  when  reading  the  work, 
that  the  writing  of  it  must  have  been  a  great  effort  for 
Lockhart :  the  book  seems  to  lack  spontaneity,  the  freedom 
that  results  from  the  sheer  joy  of  writing.  Lockhart's  style 
has  been  highly  praised,  by  none  more  liberally  than  by 
Professor  Walker.  "  Through  the  whole  book  Lockhart's 
style  is  excellent.  It  is  simple  and  unstrained,  and  wholly 
free  from  self-consciousness.  There  is  no  attempt  at  fine 
writing;  the  excellent  consists  in  doing  with  complete 
success  what  is  attempted,  in  expressing  in  the  most  trans 
lucent  phrase  the  meaning  intended  to  be  conveyed.  For 
this  reason  the  reader  seldom  stops  to  notice  how  high  is 
the  quality  of  the  English."  2  A  less  enthusiastic  critic 
might  be  inclined  to  say  that  although  the  style  is  clear, 
it  is  nevertheless  rather  heavy;  one  has  a  feeling  that  in 
many  places  more  words  are  employed  than  are  necessary 
to  convey  the  meaning  intended.  Except  in  a  few  places 
— notably  in  the  story  of  Scott's  death — Lockhart  does 
not  write  more  excellent  English  than  does  Boswell;  we 
certainly  cannot  acknowledge  him  to  be  master  of  so  perfect 
a  style  as  that  of  James  Anthony  Froude. 

1  Carlyle,  Werner. 

a  The  Literature  of  the  Victorian  Era,  p.  923. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    165 

One  thing  Lockhart  did  supremely  well,  and  in  doing 
this  he  followed  the  general  trend  of  biographical  develop 
ment,  and  was  a  worthy  successor  to  Boswell.  In  this,  too, 
he  furnished  a  high  example  to  all  future  biographers.  He 
set  himself  deliberately  and  firmly  against  panegyric  and 
dared  to  tell  the  story  of  Sir  Walter's  life — defects  and  all 
— as  honestly  as  it  was  possible  for  him  to  do  so.  "A  stern 
sense  of  duty — that  kind  of  sense  of  it  which  is  combined 
with  the  feeling  of  his  actual  presence  in  a  serene  state  of 
elevation  above  all  petty  terrestrial  and  temporary  views — 
will  induce  me  to  touch  the  few  darker  points  in  his  life  and 
characteras  freely  as  the  others  which  were  so  predominant."1 
He  has  been  sufficiently  and  justly  praised  for  his  course  in 
this  matter,  and  time  has  only  served  to  fortify  his  position 
and  to  discredit  contemporary  antagonistic  criticism.  At 
this  point,  Carlyle's  criticism  again  remains  unimpaired. 
"  Probably,"  wrote  Carlyle,  "  it  was  Mr.  Lockhart's  feeling 
of  what  the  great  public  would  approve,  that  led  him,  open- 
eyed,  into  this  offence  against  the  small  criticising  public: 
we  joyfully  accept  the  omen.  Perhaps  then,  of  all  the 
praises  copiously  bestowed  on  his  work,  there  is  none  in 
reality  so  creditable  to  him  as  this  same  censure,  which  has 
also  been  pretty  copious.  It  is  a  censure  better  than  a  good 
many  praises.  .  .  .  For  our  part,  we  hope  all  manner  of 
biographies  that  are  written  in  England  will  henceforth  be 
written  so.  If  it  is  fit  that  they  be  written  otherwise,  then 
it  is  still  fitter  that  they  be  not  written  at  all:  to  produce 
not  things  but  ghosts  of  things  can  never  be  the  duty  of 
man."  "  Not  of  all  men  is  it  well,  perhaps,"  says  Andrew 
Lang,  "  that  biography  should  be  written  thus.  Not  thus 
unsparingly  did  Lockhart  think  it  becoming  to  write  about 
Robert  Burns.  But  it  is  a  thing  to  rejoice  in,  that  the  full 

1  Lockhart  in  letter  to  Will  Laidlaw,  quoted  by  Lang,  Life  of 
Lockhart,  vol.  ii.  p.  127-8. 


166  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

story  of  one  great  man's  life  can  be  told  as  Lockhart  has 
told  the  story  of  Scott's  life.  We  know  the  worst  of  Sir 
Walter;  we  have  the  full  portrait  of  a  man;  the  defects 
are  blazoned  by  the  intense  light  of  genius  and  goodness, 
and,  thus  displayed,  how  slight  they  are,  how  high  is  that 
noble  nature  above  ours,  if  indeed  it  attains  not  to  the  rare 
perfection  of  the  saints !  Scott,  assuredly,  was  not  a  saint, 
but  a  man  living  in  the  world,  and,  it  is  granted  by  his 
biographer,  living  too  much  for  the  world.  But  he  lived 
for  other  men  as  few  of  the  saints  have  lived,  and  his  kind 
ness,  helpfulness,  courage,  temper,  and  moral  excellence, 
his  absolute,  immaculate  freedom  from  the  literary  sins  of 
envy,  jealousy,  vanity,  shine  in  Lockhart's  papers  as  an 
eternal,  if  unapproachable  example.  Only  a  good  man 
could  have  so  clearly  observed,  so  affectionately  adored, 
and  so  excellently  recorded  these  virtues."  1 

On  one  other  point  we  may  take  Mr.  Lang's  judgment,  as 
that  of  a  man  who  speaks  justly  in  spite  of  his  prepossessions. 
"  Of  the  literary  merits  of  the  Life  of  Scott  it  is  not  possible 
for  one  whose  breviary,  as  it  were,  the  book  has  been  from 
boyhood,  to  speak  with  impartiality.  To  a  Scot,  and  a  Scot 
of  the  Border,  the  book  has  the  charm  of  home,  and  is  dear 
to  us  as  his  own  grey  hills  were  dear  to  Sir  Walter.  Neces 
sarily,  inevitably,  the  stranger  cannot,  or  seldom  can,  share 
this  sentiment.  Mr.  Saintsbury,  now  in  some  degree  a 
Scot  by  adoption,  has,  indeed,  placed  the  book  beside  or 
above  Boswell's.  That  is  a  length  to  which  I  cannot  go; 
for  Boswell's  hero  appears  to  myself  to  be  of  a  character 
more  universally  human,  a  wiser  man,  a  greater  humourist, 
his  biography  a  more  valuable  possession,  than  Sir  Walter 
and  Sir  Walter's  Life.  But  it  were  childish  to  dispute  about 
the  relative  merits  of  two  chefs-cPaeuvre.  Each  work  is 
perfect  in  its  kind  and  in  relation  to  its  subject.  The  self- 
1  Life  of  Lockhart,  vol.  ii.  p.  121-2. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    167 

repression  of  Lockhart,  accompanied  by  his  total  lack  of 
self-consciousness  (so  astonishing  in  so  shy  a  man,  when 
his  own  person  has  to  figure  on  the  scene),  is  as  valuable 
as  the  very  opposite  quality  in  Boswell."  1 

The  next  noteworthy  success  after  Lockhart's  Scott  was 
Arthur  Penrhyn  Stanley's  Life  of  Thomas  Arnold  (1844). 
The  work  exhibits  more  of  condensation  than  does  that  of 
Lockhart;  on  the  contrary,  it  is  less  unified  than  the  Scott 
and  exhibits  more  evidently  the  traces  of  painful  labour. 
Stanley  admitted  that  the  work  was  the  most  difficult  in 
which  he  ever  engaged.  It  was  originally  the  intention  of 
Stanley  that  "  the  several  parts  should  have  been  supplied 
by  different  writers."  Fortunately,  this  method  was 
abandoned:  it  is  almost  impossible  to  attain  unity  of  effect 
unless  one  master-hand  erects  the  structure;  a  mosaic, 
composed  of  contributions  from  several  pens,  may  form  a 
memorial  volume,  but  hardly  a  biography.  Stanley  was 
scarcely  successful  in  his  handling  of  Arnold's  letters:  he 
separated  the  letters  from  the  narrative,  employing  the 
narrative  "  to  state  as  much  as  would  enable  the  reader  to 
enter  upon  the  letters  with  a  correct  understanding  of  their 
writer  in  his  different  periods  of  life,  and  his  different  spheres 
of  action."  According  to  this  plan  the  letters  are  given  in 
collections  at  the  end  of  chapters.  "  Such  a  plan,"  says 
Professor  Walker,  "  is  really  a  confession  of  failure  .  .  . 
the  work  of  weaving  the  letters  into  the  narrative,  which 
ought  to  have  been  performed  by  the  biographer,  is  left  to 
the  imagination  of  the  reader."  2  Stanley  did  well,  on  the 
other  hand,  not  to  sit  in  judgment  on  Arnold :  "  The  only 
question  which  I  have  allowed  myself  to  ask  in  each 
particular  act  or  opinion  that  has  come  before  me,"  he 
writes  in  the  Preface,  "  has  been  not  whether  I  approved  or 

1  Life  of  Lockhart,  vol.  ii.  p.  122. 

•  Literature  of  the  Victorian  Era,  p.  925. 


168  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

disapproved,  but  whether  it  was  characteristic  of  him." 
Without  being  a  remarkable  type  of  the  autobiographical 
method,  the  Life  of  Arnold,  by  reason  of  its  sanity,  its  clear 
English,  its  sympathetic  delineation  arising  from  Stanley's 
love  of  Arnold,  is  sure  of  its  place  in  the  history  of  nine 
teenth-century  biography. 

The  century  was  well-nigh  closed  when  James  Anthony 
Froude  produced  the  Life  of  Thomas  Carlyle,  a  work  which, 
for  skilful  selection  and  rejection,  effects  of  light  and  shade, 
remarkable  unity,  and  brilliance  of  style — in  short,  for 
sheer  artistry,  is  unsurpassed;  and,  from  a  dispassionate 
point  of  view,  marks  the  highest  summit  reached  by  English 
biography  since  the  great  work  of  Boswell.  Froude's 
Carlyle  has  been,  ever  since  its  publication  (1882-4),  a 
famous  battle-ground.  The  storm  raised  by  Lockhart's 
Life  of  Scott  was  but  a  summer  breeze  in  comparison.  It 
might  almost  be  said  that  Froude  was  permitted  to  enjoy 
no  peace  of  mind  after  the  biography  was  given  to  the 
public.  It  is  certain  that  he  has  been  grossly  misjudged, 
severely  maligned,  unjustly  condemned.  Matter  has  been 
published  concerning  both  him  and  Carlyle  that  had  much 
better  been  left  unpublished.  Not  even  yet  has  the  storm 
subsided;  but  it  is  subsiding,  and  when  the  time  of  clear 
shining  comes,  Froude  will  get  his  due,  and  the  Life  of 
Carlyle  will  be  allowed  without  protest  to  take  its  place 
where  already  even  unfriendly  critics  have  reluctantly 
conceded  it  to  belong — in  the  very  forefront  of  English 
biography.  This  is  not  the  place  to  plead  the  cause  of 
Froude;  but  no  discussion  of  the  Life  of  Carlyle,  from 
whatever  angle,  can  proceed  without  something  of  adequate 
adjustment  of  values  arising  from  a  careful  view  of  both 
sides  of  the  case. 

First,  we  may  proceed  to  an  examination  of  the  method 
followed  by  Froude  and  the  consequent  place  of  the  bio- 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    169 

graphy  in  the  evolution  of  the  form.  Theoretically,  Froude 
adopted  the  method  used  by  Boswell  and  Lockhart.  "  So 
far  [until  1860],"  writes  Froude,  "my  account  of  Carlyle 
has  been  taken  from  written  memorials,  letters,  diaries, 
and  autobiographical  fragments.  For  the  future  the  story 
will  form  itself  round  my  own  personal  intercourse  with 
him."  1  We  recognise,  at  once,  that  this  plan  is  the  exact 
parallel  of  that  employed  in  BoswelPs  Johnson.  Froude, 
then,  cannot  be  said  to  have  advanced  the  evolution  of  the 
biographical  form ;  he  worked  according  to  the  old  and  tried 
method.  He  does  not  obtrude  himself  unduly  upon  the 
scene  of  action;  Leslie  Stephen  commends  him  for  "  the 
skill  with  which  he  makes  the  story  tell  itself,  and  develops 
the  drama  without  obtruding  himself  as  showman."  2  He 
does  not  report  Carlyle's  conversation  in  the  manner  of 
Boswell,  although  he  had  abundant  opportunity  to  do  so. 
While  he  wrote  a  fairly  full  narrative,  he  stopped  short  of 
the  tiresome  prolixity  of  Lockhart.  In  short,  while  his 
Carlyle  marks  no  advance  in  method,  it  does  mark  a  distinct 
advance  in  manner — and  that  manner  is  the  very  essence 
of  Froude's  literary  faith  and  theory,  the  source  at  once  of 
his  strength  and  of  his  weakness. 

It  can  scarcely  be  denied  that  Froude  possessed  the 
dramatic  instinct  to  a  high  degree;  history  was  to  him 
nothing  if  not  dramatic,  and  few  men  have  excelled  him  in 
its  dramatic  representation.  In  this  respect,  he  was  like 
Carlyle,  of  whom,  in  truth,"he  was  an  ardent  disciple.  Now, 
the  dramatic  instinct  is  prone  to  display  itself  unduly:  in 
the  attempt  to  portray  a  striking  situation  there  is  great 
danger  of  over-emphasis;  Carlyle  has  frequently  been 
charged  with  such  exaggeration.  Somewhat  similarly, 
Macaulay  has  been  charged  with  warping  the  facts  to 


1  Life  in  London,  vol.  ii.  p.  254. 
*  Studies  of  a  Biographer,  vol.  iii.  p. 


224. 


1 70  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

enable  him  to  make  a  picturesque  phrase.  But  this  dramatic 
instinct — this  sure  attribute  of  the  artist — is  of  all  other 
gifts  essential  to  the  great  biographer.  Boswell  possessed 
it  in  a  high  degree;  Lockhart  did  not  have  it,  hence  the 
lesser  quality  of  his  success;  perhaps  the  absence  of  it 
among  biographers  accounts  for  the  scarcity  of  great 
biographies.  One  of  the  best  critical  discussions  of  bio 
graphy  in  the  English  language  was  written  by  William 
Ewart  Gladstone  in  his  review  of  Trevelyan's  Life  of 
Macaulay.1  "  A  peculiar  faculty,"  wrote  Mr.  Gladstone, 
"  and  one  approaching  to  the  dramatic  order,  belongs  to 
the  successful  painter  of  historical  portraits  and  belongs 
also  to  the  true  biographer.  It  is  that  of  representing 
personality.  In  the  picture,  what  we  want  is  not  merely  a 
collection  of  unexceptionable  lines  and  colours  so  presented 
as  readily  to  identify  their  original.  Such  a  work  is  not  the 
man,  but  a  duly  attested  certificate  of  the  man.  What  we 
require,  however,  is  the  man  and  not  merely  the  certificate. 
In  the  same  way,  what  we  want  in  a  biography,  and  what, 
despite  the  etymology  of  the  title,  we  very  seldom  find,  is 
life.  The  very  best  transcript  is  a  failure,  if  it  be  a  transcript 
only.  To  fulfil  its  idea,  it  must  have  in  it  the  essential 
quality  of  movement;  must  realise  the  lofty  fiction  of  the 
divine  Shield  of  Achilles,  where  the  upturning  earth,  though 
wrought  in  metal,  darkened  as  the  plough  went  on,  and  the 
figures  of  the  battle-piece  dealt  their  strokes  and  parried 
them,  and  dragged  out  from  the  turmoil  the  bodies  of  their 
dead.  .  .  .  But  neither  love,  which  is  indeed  a  danger  as 
well  as  an  ally  .  .  .  nor  forgetfulness  of  self,  will  make  a 
thoroughly  good  biography,  without  this  subtle  gift  of 
imparting  life.  By  this  it  was  that  Boswell  established  him 
self  as  the  prince  of  all  biographers."  To  him  who  attains 
unto  such  "  lofty  fiction,"  much  may  be  forgiven.  And 
1  Quarterly  Review,  vol.  142,  pp.  1-50. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19-™  CENTURY    171 

Froude  has  attained.  To  one  who  reads  with  open,  unpre 
judiced  mind,  the  story  of  Carlyle's  life  unrolls  itself  with 
a  power  not  unlike  that  of  the  greatest  Greek  dramas.  We 
see,  before  our  very  eyes,  the  pilgrimage  of  Carlyle  from 
birth  to  death;  we  see  his  Titanic  struggle  with  life;  we 
see  him  go  down  into  the  darkening  shadows.  One  feels 
oneself  growing  old  with  the  hero,  as  one  proceeds  to  the 
end  of  the  volumes. 

This  compelling  power  of  Froude's  work  made  itself  felt 
from  the  very  first.  "  It  would  be  an  ill  compliment  to  Mr. 
Froude,"  wrote  Mowbray  Morris  in  the  Quarterly  Review* 
"  to  suppose  him  hurt  by  the  hard  words  that  have  been 
flung  at  the  great  mausoleum  he  has  now  completed  to  the 
memory  of  Carlyle.  For  great  it  assuredly  is,  nor  in  sub 
stance  only.  Whatever  be  our  feelings  for  the  relics  it  is 
intended  to  enshrine,  whatever  even  we  may  think  of  the 
style  of  the  building,  we  must  all  respect  the  pious  care  and 
industry  of  the  architect.  Our  language  is  not  rich  in  bio 
graphies  of  this  high  class.  BoswelPs  Life  of  Johnson, 
Southey's  Life  of  Nelson,  Lockhart's  Life  of  Scott,  Carlyle's 
Life  of  Sterling,  Stanley's  Life  of  Arnold,  Mr.  Trevelyan's 
Life  ofMacaulay  ;  it  would  have  been  hard  to  name  another 
till  these  four  volumes  appeared,  but  in  that  list  they  will 
assuredly  take  their  place."  "  It  seems  hard  to  doubt  the 
truth  of  the  portrait,"  says  the  reviewer  in  closing.  "  The 
man  that  many,  perhaps,  who  never  set  eyes  on  him  in  the 
flesh  have  fashioned  out  of  his  works,  it  may  not  be;  but 
that  this  is  the  true  and  theirs  the  counterfeit  likeness,  is 
surely  writ  large  on  every  page,  and  with  the  man's  own 
hand." 

The   chief   outcry   against    Froude   was   the   self-same 
outcry  that  was  raised  against  Lockhart:    matters  were 
revealed  that  should  not  have  been  revealed.  "  He  is  found 
Vol.  159,  pp.  76-112. 


172  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

guilty  of  having  said  this  and  that,  calculated  not  to  be 
entirely  pleasant  to  this  man  and  that;  in  other  words, 
calculated  to  give  him  and  the  thing  he  worked  in  a  living 
set  of  features,  not  leave  him  vague,  in  the  white  beatified- 
ghost  condition,"  to  adopt  Carlyle's  own  words.  No  minute 
discussion  of  this  point  can  here  be  entered  into;  can  any 
one,  however,  who  has  read  with  thoughtful  care  Carlyle's 
review  of  Lockhart's  Scott,  taking  the  matter  therein  at  its 
plain,  face  value,  and  in  connexion  with  Carlyle's  other 
utterances,  both  spoken  and  written,  on  the  subject  of  bio 
graphy,  doubt  that  Froude  followed  the  very  method  and 
manner  which  Carlyle  would  have  approved  ?  "  Express 
biography  of  himself  he  would  really  rather  there  should  be 
none  "  [but  note  that  he  does  not  prohibit  one];  but  such  a 
work  once  taken  in  hand,  are  we  not  sure  that  Carlyle  him 
self  would  have  courted  the  most  unsparingly  frank  delinea 
tion?  In  the  opinion  of  Froude's  biographer  he  would: 
"  Froude  was  only  following  the  principles  laid  down  by 
Carlyle  himself.  In  reviewing  Lockhart's  Life  of  Scott, 
Carlyle  emptied  the  vials  of  his  scorn,  which  were  ample 
and  capacious,  upon  '  English  biography,  bless  its  mealy 
mouth.'  The  censure  of  Lockhart,  for  '  personalities,  indis 
cretion,'  *  violating  the  sanctities  of  private  life,'  was,  he 
said,  better  than  a  good  many  praises.  A  biographer  should 
speak  the  truth,  having  the  fear  of  God  before  his  eyes,  and 
no  other  fear  whatever.  That  Lockhart  had  done,  and  in 
the  eyes  of  Carlyle,  who  admired  him  as  he  admired  few 
men,  it  was  a  supreme  merit."  1  As  a  matter  of  fact,  Froude 

1  Herbert  Paul,  Life  of  Froude,  pp.  313-14.  Read  also  the 
pages  immediately  following.  Mr.  Froude  spoke  thus  for  himself: 
"  The  biographies  of  the  great  men  of  the  past,  the  great  spiritual 
teachers  especially,  with  whom  Carlyle  must  be  ranked,  are  gener 
ally  useless.  They  are  idle  and  incredible  panegyrics,  with  the 
features  drawn  without  shadows,  false,  conventional,  and  worthless. 
The  only  '  Life  '  of  a  man  which  is  not  worse  than  useless  is  a  '  Life  ' 
which  tells  all  the  truth  so  far  as  the  biographer  knows  it.  He  may 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  igrn  CENTURY    173 

erred  not  so  much  in  what  he  published,  for  which,  indeed, 
he  has  been  thoroughly  castigated,  as  in  what  he  did  not 
publish.  In  his  desire  to  pass  lightly  over  certain  matters, 
he  without  doubt  left  them  dark,  told  them  in  a  way  that 
left  room  for  wrong  inferences.  Had  he  expressed  fully  and 
clearly,  so  far  as  he  knew  the  truth,  matters  which  he  later 
gave  in  the  posthumous  pamphlet,  My  Relations  with 
Carlyle,  his  method  would  have  been  less  vulnerable. 
Nothing  is  ever  gained  by  giving  just  enough  to  whet 
curiosity,  and  then  leaving  the  matter  dark. 

It  was  not  from  any  desire  to  do  injustice  to  Carlyle  that 
Froude  abstained  from  reporting  his  conversation.  He 
had  thought  the  matter  over  carefully,  and  had  come  to 
much  the  same  conclusion  as  had  Lockhart  before  him.  "  To 
report  correctly  the  language  of  conversations,  especially 
when  extendedover  a  wide  period, is  almost  an  impossibility. 
The  listener,  in  spite  of  himself,  adds  something  of  his  own 
in  colour,  form,  or  substance."  1  Froude  no  doubt  realised 
that  he  did  not  possess  the  gift  of  reporting  conversation; 
even  Boswell,  as  we  know,  "  Johnsonised  "  his  notes  of  the 
Doctor's  talk.2  Moreover,  Carlyle's  talk  was  so  much  like 
his  writing  that  it  was  not  necessary  for  Froude  to  give 

be  mistaken,  but  he  has  at  least  been  faithful,  and  his  mistakes  may 
be  corrected.  So  perhaps  may  some  of  mine,  especially  if  particular 
papers  have  been  purposely  withheld  from  me." — My  Relations  with 
Carlyle,  p.  40. 

1  Carlyle's  Life  in  London,  vol.  ii.  p.  443.  J.  W.  Cross  reached  the 
same  conclusion,  as  he  tells  us  in  the  Preface  to  the  Life  of  George 
Eliot :  "  I  have  refrained  almost  entirely  from  quoting  remembered 
sayings  of  George  Eliot,  because  it  is  difficult  to  be  certain  of  com 
plete  accuracy,  and  everything  depends  upon  accuracy.  Recollec 
tions  of  conversation  are  seldom  to  be  implicitly  trusted  in  the 
absence  of  notes  made  at  the  time.  The  value  of  spoken  words 
depends,  too,  so  much  on  the  tone,  and  on  the  circumstances  which 
gave  rise  to  their  utterance,  that  they  often  mislead  as  much  as  they 
enlighten  when,  in  the  process  of  repetition,  they  have  taken 
colour  from  another  mind.  '  All  interpretations  depend  upon  the 
interpreter.'  " 

-  See  chap.  vii.  of  Fitzgerald's  BoswelVs  A  utobiography. 


174  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

much  of  it.  "  I  heard  him  flinging  off  the  matter  intended 
for  the  rest  of  the  series  [of  Latter  Day  Pamphlets]  which 
had  been  left  unwritten,"  records  Froude,  "  pouring  out, 
for  hours  together,  a  torrent  of  sulphurous  denunciation. 
No  one  could  check  him.  If  any  one  tried  contradiction,  the 
cataract  arose  against  the  obstacle  till  it  rushed  over  it  and 
drowned  it.  But,  in  general,  his  listeners  sat  silent.  The 
imagery,  his  wild  play  of  humour,  the  immense  knowledge 
always  evident  in  the  grotesque  forms  which  it  assumed, 
were  in  themselves  so  dazzling  and  so  entertaining  that  we 
lost  the  use  of  our  own  faculties  till  it  was  over."  x  Who 
that  is  acquainted  with  Carlyle's  writings  could  fail  to 
recognise  "  the  imagery,  the  wild  play  of  humour,  the 
grotesque  forms  "  here  mentioned  ?  And  when  Carlyle 
himself  has  written  them  all  out  largely  and  unstintedly, 
Froude  may  well  be  excused  from  attempting  to  report, 
lamely,  what  was  no  doubt  practically  impossible  to  report 
accurately. 

The  deliberate  errors  which  have  been  charged  upon 
Mr.  Froude  have  a  remarkable  way  of  disappearing  under 
careful  scrutiny.  Mr.  David  Wilson's  "  multiply  the 
number  of  errors  found  in  vol.  i.  p.  5,  by  the  total  number 
of  pages,  1860,  and  then  consider  seriously  what  such  a 
book  is  worth,"  2  is  more  misleading,  even  as  hyperbole, 
than  anything  which  Froude  has  written.  Even  the  "  gey 
ill  to  deal  with,"  of  which  so  much  has  been  made,  is  found 
in  the  Life  in  its  correct  form.3  Moreover,  if  Carlyle  was 
"  gey  ill  to  deal  with,"  as  is  conceded,  there  cannot  be 
any  doubt  that  he  was  also  at  times  (not  always,  to  be 
sure — nobody  says  so  much)  "  gey  ill  to  live  with."  Leslie 
Stephen,  a  careful  student  of  the  matter,  and  a  critic  not 
inclined  to  be  too  lenient  towards  him,  exonerates  Froude 

1  Life  in  London,  vol.  ii.  p.  41.     *  Mr.  Froude  and  Carlyle,  p.  103. 
*  Life  in  London,  vol.  ii.  p.  91. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19-™  CENTURY    175 

from  wilful  error :  "  I  have  heard  Froude  accused  of  ... 
a  malicious  misrepresentation  of  the  man  whom  he  chose 
as  his  prophet.  I  believe  such  a  view  to  be  entirely  mis 
taken."  1  An  interesting  example  of  the  manner  in  which 
Froude  has  been  misrepresented  is  found  in  the  Intro 
duction  to  New  Letters  and  Memorials  of  "Jane  Welsh 
Carlyle  (p.  xx)  where  Sir  James  Crichton-Browne  says: 
"  It  is  characteristic  of  the  looseness  of  Froude's  methods 
that  he  states  in  the  *  Life  in  London  '  (vol.  ii.  p.  408)  that 
the  manuscript  of  the  *  Letters  and  Memorials  *  was  placed 
in  his  hands  in  June  1871,  whereas  Carlyle,  in  February 
1873,  speaks  of  it  in  his  will  as  being  still  in  his  possession; 
and,  indeed,  a  number  of  his  notes  to  it  actually  bear  date  in 
that  year."  Reference  to  Froude's  own  statements  quickly 
clear  the  matter  up.  Froude  distinctly  states  (p.  412)  that, 
after  receiving  the  manuscript  in  June  1871,  he  sent  it  to 
John  Forster,  and  (p.  414)  that,  at  the  close  of  1873,  "  again 
without  note  or  warning,  he  [Carlyle]  sent  me  his  own 
and  his  wife's  private  papers,  journals,  correspondence, 
reminiscences,  etc." 

"  I  cannot  recognise  the  Carlyle  of  Mr.  Froude  in  the  nine 
volumes  as  the  real  and  total  Carlyle  I  myself  knew,"  com 
plains  Professor  David  Masson.2  Most  assuredly  may 
Professor  Masson  thus  complain!  Had  he  written  a  Life 
of  Carlyle,  it  would  have  been  Masson's  Carlyle  that  was 
delineated,  and  Froude  could,  with  as  much  justification, 
complain  that  in  it  he  could  not  recognise  the  real  and  total 
Carlyle  whom  he  himself  knew.  Froude's  work  need  not 

1  Studies  of  a  Biographer,  vol.  iii.  p.  221.  Cf.  Stephen's  letter  to 
Charles  Eliot  Norton:  "  Still,  I  do  fancy  that  I  understand  Froude 
a  little  better  than  before.  He  was  terribly  put  about  by  the  respon 
sibility,  and  did,  I  believe,  try  to  speak  the  truth,  though  he  may 
have  been  misled  by  his  love  of  the  graphic." — Quoted  in  Frederic 
Maitland's  Life  of  Stephen,  p.  483.  See  also  Stephen's  article  on 
Carlyle  in  Dictionary  of  National  Biography,  and  the  essays  on 
"  Carlyle's  Ethics  "  and  "  Froude  "  in  vol.  iii.  Studies  of  a  Biographer. 

*  Carlyle  Personally  and  in  his  Writings,  pp.  lo-xi. 


176  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

for  this  reason  be  depreciated.  A  biography  represents  the 
biographer's  conception  of  the  subject,  just  as  a  portrait 
represents  what  the  artist  has  seen  in  his  subject.  We  all 
recognise  that  a  portrait  is  not  all  of  the  man,  nor  yet  just 
the  man  we  knew:  the  spirit  of  life  is  lacking,  just  as  surely 
as  something  we  saw  in  the  man,  which  the  artist  did 
not  see,  is  lacking.  Just  so  a  biography  cannot  be  the 
living  man  that  every  one  of  his  friends  knew.  Stanley 
complained  of  this  fact  in  his  Preface  to  the  Life  of  Arnold, 
where  he  speaks  of  those  "  who  will  painfully  feel  the 
contrast  which  probably  always  exists  in  the  case  of  any 
remarkable  man,  between  the  image  of  his  inner  life,  as  it 
was  known  to  those  nearest  and  dearest  to  him,  and  the 
outward  image  of  a  written  biography,  which  can  rarely  be 
more  than  a  faint  shadow  of  what  they  cherish  in  their  own 
recollections — the  one  representing  what  he  was — the  other 
only  what  he  thought  and  did ;  the  one  formed  in  the  atmo 
sphere  which  he  had  himself  created — the  other  necessarily 
accommodating  itself  to  the  public  opinion  to  which  it  is 
mainly  addressed."  The  testimony  of  contemporaries  of 
Charles  Kingsley  does  not  leave  one  with  the  same  con 
ception  of  Mr.  Kingsley  as  one  gains  from  reading  the  Life 
by  Mrs.  Kingsley,  yet  she  insists,  "  we  speak  that  we  do 
know,  and  testify  to  that  we  have  seen."  l  It  is  eternally 
true  that  a  man  is  persona :  he  assumes  different  masks 
when  observed  by  different  people  —  masks  produced, 
perhaps,  by  something  in  the  vision  of  those  who  do  the 
observing.  This  truth  should  always  be  kept  in  mind,  in 
judging  any  biography.  "  I  must  take  the  story,"  writes 
Leslie  Stephen  of  Froude's  Carlyle,  "  not  as  definitive  truth, 
but  as  an  aspect  of  the  truth  seen  from  a  particular  point 
of  view."  2  Nothing  more  just  or  more  discriminating 

1  Life  and  Letters  of  Charles  Kingsley,  vol.  ii.  p.  477 
2  Studies  of  a  Biographer,  vol.  iii.  p.  223. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19x11  CENTURY    177 

has   ever   been  written   by  way  of   criticism  on  a  great 
biography. 

In  the  main  features,  Froude  has  given  us  the  true 
Thomas  Carlyle.  Of  this  there  is  ample  testimony.  "  By 
nobody,"  writes  Mr.  W.  G.  Collingwood,  "  more  than  by 
Mr.  Ruskin  was  Carlyle's  reputation  valued,  and  yet  he 
acknowledged  that  Mr.  Froude  was  but  telling  the  truth 
in  the  revelations  which  so  surprised  the  public,  and  much 
as  he  admired  Mr.  Norton,  he  deprecated  the  attack  on 
Carlyle's  literary  executor,  whose  motives  he  understood 
and  approved."  1  Professor  Masson,  too,  has  given  some 
what  reluctant  testimony  to  the  general  value  of  Froude's 
work  in  the  complete  series  of  Carlyle  books :  "  Nor  must 
we  forget  the  prodigious  interest  and  impressiveness,  all  in 
all,  of  those  nine  volumes,  or  the  fact  that  they  themselves 
contain,  whether  in  the  autobiographical  letters  and 
extracts  or  in  Mr.  Froude's  own  comments  and  narrative, 
so  much  indirect  contradiction  and  rebuke  of  the  paltry 
misjudgment  of  Carlyle  which  many  of  the  readers  of  the 
volumes  have  carried  away  from  them  that  the  persistence 
of  such  readers  in  their  misjudgment  can  be  accounted  for 
only  by  the  radical  smallness  of  the  average  mind,  its 
inability  to  grasp  or  appreciate  anything  very  uncommon."2 
To  Horace  Traubel,  Walt  Whitman  expressed  his  opinion 
thus :  "  The  books  do  not  have  such  a  black  influence  over 
me — are  on  the  contrary  inspiring — put  some  rich  blood 
into  my  poor  veins.  The  Carlyle — Froude's  Carlyle — is  its 
own  excuse  for  being:  I  do  not  sympathise  with  the  howl 
against  it.  What  justifies  it  to  me  is  the  fact  that  this  is 
Carlyle — that  and  nothing  else :  just  Carlyle:  not  a  picture 
of  what  he  should  have  been,  but  of  what  he  was:  my 
simple  criticism  of  Froude's  life  would  be,  that  it  gives  the 

1  The  Life  and  Work  of  John  Ruskin,  vol.  ii.  p.  243. 
*  Carlyle  Personally  and  in  his  Writings,  pp.  9-10. 

M 


178  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

man  as  he  was,  growl  and  all."  l  It  is  needless  to  quote 
other  such  testimony.  What  those  need  to  do  who  are 
inclined  to  judge  Froude  by  the  statements  of  his  enemies 
is  to  read  with  close  scrutiny  the  Life  of  Carlyle,  and  then 
compare  "  chapter  and  verse  "  with  the  criticisms.  The 
exercise  will  prove  wholesome.  The  hopelessness  of  setting 
aside  the  Life  of  Carlyle  is  clearly  evident  to  any  careful 
student.  "  Of  all  Froude's  books,"  writes  P.  Hume  Brown, 
"  it  is  doubtless  the  one  which  will  preserve  his  name  the 
longest;  the  eminence  and  distinctiveness  of  its  subject 
and  the  skill  of  the  biographer  combine  to  make  it  a  repre 
sentative  book  of  an  epoch,  and  as  such  it  has  its  only 
companion  in  Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson"  2 

Trevelyan  tells  us  that  Macaulay's  was  "  one  of  the 
happiest  lives  that  it  has  ever  fallen  to  the  lot  of  a  biographer 
to  record."  3  How  very  different  from  the  task  that  Froude 
had  in  hand:  if  Macaulay's  was  one  of  the  happiest  lives, 
Carlyle's  was  one  of  the  unhappiest,  most  heavy-laden. 
The  tasks  of  Trevelyan  and  of  Froude  are  hardly  compar 
able.  Set  over  against  the  portraits  of  Carlyle  by  Watts 
and  Millais  and  Whistler,  the  truth  of  the  picture  limned  by 
Froude  is  not  impeached.  Froude  may  have  painted  after 
the  manner  of  Titian  and  Vandyke,  yet  what  he  has  pro 
duced  is  high  art:  what  he  perceived,  that  he  has  drawn 
imperishably.  "  Working  with  consummate  skill  upon 
magnificent  materials,  Froude  has  constructed  a  character 
and  has  left  a  picture  of  life-enthralling  interest.  If  his 
Carlyle  be  one  of  the  most  misleading  of  biographies,  it  is 
also  one  of  the  most  fascinating,  and  should  it  ever  be 
superseded  and  consigned  to  the  literary  lumber-room, 
English  readers  will  be  the  poorer  by  the  loss  of  one  of  the 
most  readable  books  in  the  language.  In  sheer  literary 

1  With  Walt  Whitman  in  Camden,  vol.  ii.  p.  296. 

8  In  Chambers' s  Encyclopedia  of  English  Literature,  vol.  iii.  p.  503. 

*  Life  of  Macaulay,  vol.  ii.  p.  468. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    179 

skill  even  Froude  never  surpassed  it." l  There  is  nosign  that 
Froude's  work  is  in  danger  of  being  set  aside.  "  Froude  had 
so  much  confidence  in  the  essential  greatness  of  the  man," 
writes  Mr.  Herbert  Paul,  "  that  he  did  not  hesitate  to  show 
him  as  he  was,  not  a  prodigy  of  impossible  perfection,  but 
a  sterling  character  and  a  lofty  genius.  Therefore  his 
portrait  lives,  and  will  live,  when  biographies  written  for 
flattery  or  for  edification  have  been  consigned  to  boxes  or 
to  lumber-rooms."  2 

At  the  very  close  of  the  century  (1900)  appeared  Alex 
ander  V.  G.  Allen's  Life  of  Phillips  Brooks,  a  work  worthy 
to  be  named  among  the  greatest  of  English  biographies. 
Beyond  doubt  it  marks  the  highest  point  attained  by  an 
American  biographer.  Mr.  Allen  has  worked  along  the 
familiar  Boswell-autobiographical  method.  There  is  not  a 
large  amount  of  conversation  recorded,  but  the  extracts 
from  letters,  diaries,  notebooks,  and  newspapers  are  copious, 
strictly  relevant,  and  chosen  with  rare  discrimination. 
Although  the  Life  of  Brooks  marks  no  advance  in  method 
of  biography,  it  does  stand  as  a  remarkable  culmination 
and  fulfilment  of  the  theory  which  Boswell  did  so  much  to 
put  into  practice.  After  reading  Mr.  Allen's  work  one  feels 
able  in  regard  to  Phillips  Brooks  to  formulate  answers  to 
the  questions  suggested  by  Carlyle:  "  How  did  the  world 
and  man's  life,  from  his  particular  position,  represent 
themselves  to  his  mind  ?  How  did  co-existing  circumstances 
modify  him  from  without;  how  did  he  modify  these  from 
within  ?  With  what  endeavours  and  what  efficacy  rule 
over  them;  with  what  resistance  and  what  suffering  sink 

1  Literature  of  the  Victorian  Era,  p.  875.  While  I  am  far  from 
agreeing  with  all  that  Professor  Walker  has  written  of  Froude  and 
of  Carlyle  in  this  admirable  volume,  I  am  glad  to  say  that  I  consider 
his  estimates  surprisingly  just.  They  seem  to  me  an  evidence  of  the 
new  light  in  which  Froude  may  yet  be  held. 

1  Life  of  Froude,  p.  313. 


1 8o  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

under  them  ?  In  one  word,  what  and  how  produced  was 
the  effect  of  society  on  him;  what  and  how  produced  was 
his  effect  on  society  ?  "  Carlyle's  further  statement  forms 
sufficient  commentary  upon  the  Life  of  Brooks  :  "  He  who 
should  answer  these  questions,  in  regard  to  any  individual, 
would,  as  we  believe,  furnish  a  model  of  perfection  in 
biography."  x 

The  century  produced  few  other  biographies  worthy  to 
be  mentioned  along  with  the  great  models  which  we  have 
just  considered.  Beyond  Southey's  Life  of  Nelson,  Mrs. 
Gaskell's  Life  of  Charlotte  Bronte,  and  Trevelyan's  Life  of 
Macaulay,  all  other  biographies  seem  on  a  lower  plane. 
John  Forster's  Life  of  Dickens,  Mrs.  Kingsley's  Life  and, 
Letters  of  Charles  Kingsley,  and  Hallam  Tennyson's  Memoir 
of  Alfred  Tennyson,  without  marking  any  advance  in  the 
evolution  of  the  form,  perhaps  follow  the  greater  works  at 
the  least  distance.  Carlyle's  Life  of  Sterling,  which  will  be 
considered  later,  is  in  a  class  by  itself. 

The  master  biographies  appear  the  greater  when  con 
trasted  with  the  works  of  those  who  have  found  the 
Boswell-autobiographical  method  a  snare.  Of  the  latter 
we  need  mention  only  William  Hayley's  Life  of  Cowper, 
William  Roberts'  Life  of  Hannah  More,  Thomas  Moore's 
Life  of  Byron,  and  J.  W.  Cross'  Life  of  George  Eliot.  All 
four  of  these  biographers  made  the  attempt  to  allow  the 
letters  and  other  autobiographical  material  to  tell  the  life- 
story  of  the  subject;  all  of  them,  in  one  way  or  another, 
failed  to  attain  great  success.  Mr.  Hayley  not  only  made 
poor  use  of  Cowper's  letters,  he  also  succumbed  to  the 
temptation  of  lavish  panegyric.  "  We  might  imagine," 
wrote  Robert  Sou  they  in  the  Annual  Review,  "  that,  when 
he  sat  down  to  compose,  he  had  provided  himself  with  a 
list  of  all  the  laudatory  and  ornamental  epithets  in  the 
1  Essay  on  Burns. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    181 

English  language,  on  which  he  rang  his  changes  in  conjunc 
tion  with  every  name  that  occurred.  It  would  not  be  easy 
to  find  a  single  person  mentioned  without  some  panegyric 
addition;  and  this  perpetual  strain  of  compliment  throws 
a  finical  and  artificial  air  over  his  language,  totally  repug 
nant  to  the  tone  of  manly  sincerity."  l  Cowper  was  one  of 
the  best  letter-writers  that  England  has  produced;  a  fact 
which  makes  Hayley's  failure  all  the  more  lamentable. 
"  Further " — we  quote  again  from  Southey's  review — 
"  the  thread  of  narrative  is  broken,  and  all  due  proportion 
of  length  to  importance  of  matter  destroyed  by  such  an 
intermixture  [of  letters  and  narrative  as  made  by  Hayley]. 
On  the  whole,  we  cannot  consider  it  as  a  just  model  of  this 
species  of  composition.  .  .  .  That  the  familiar  letters  of 
men  of  eminence  are  of  themselves  highly  pleasing,  no  one 
will  call  in  question;  or  that  they  form  excellent  matter  for 
the  use  of  the  biographer  who  may,  with  great  advantage, 
introduce  portions  of  them,  as  illustrations  of  character 
and  incident.  It  is  only  to  this  chequered  mode  of  mingling 
them  entire,  with  the  staple  of  the  writer's  narration,  that 
we  venture  to  propose  our  objections."  William  Roberts 
complained  that  he  found  "  difficulty  in  reducing  his 
materials  within  the  compass  "  of  the  four  volumes  forming 
the  Life  of  Hannah  More — a  statement  in  itself  an  ad 
mission  of  inability  to  distinguish  values.  Moreover,  Miss 
More's  letters  are  connected  by  the  slenderest  thread  of 
dateless  narrative. 

Considering  the  greatness  of  the  opportunities  which  the 
subject  offered  to  him,  it  is  hardly  too  much  to  say  that 
Moore's  failure  with  the  Life  of  Byron  is  perhaps  the  most 
conspicuous  of  the  century.  Never  had  a  biographer  greater 
opportunities:  a  storm-tossed  life  full  of  passion  and  ad 
venture,  letters  among  the  best  in  the  English  language, 
acquaintance  of  long  standing — all  these  advantages  were 
1  Pp.  457-62  (1803). 


1 82  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Moore's.  He  seemed  to  realise  his  own  inability  to  cope 
with  the  task:  he  professed  to  give  only  The  Letters  and 
Journals  of  Lord  Byron  with  Notices  of  his  Life.  As  a  matter 
of  fact,  Moore  was  not  equal  to  the  work:  the  stormy 
spirit  of  Byron — a  Satan  in  revolt — was  too  great,  too 
intractable  for  the  biographer  to  compass.  Moore  was  not 
a  biographical  artist.  In  the  two  heavy  folio  volumes  of  the 
Life,  Byron  lies  buried  under  a  mass  of  material.  Moore  is 
discursive,  in  addition;  he  adds  notes  on  every  possible 
subject;  he  uses  no  selection  and  rejection.  Even  the  style 
of  the  biography  is  poor.  One  realises  the  force  of  Carlyle's 
criticism :  "  A  mass  of  materials  is  collected,  and  the 
building  proceeds  apace.  Stone  is  laid  on  the  top  of  stone, 
just  as  it  comes  to  hand;  a  trowel  or  two  of  biographic 
mortar,  if  perfectly  convenient,  being  spread  in  here  and 
there,  by  way  of  cement ;  and  so  the  strangest  pile  suddenly 
arises,  amorphous,  pointing  every  way  but  to  the  zenith, 
here  a  block  of  granite,  there  a  mass  of  pipe-clay;  till  the 
whole  finishes,  when  the  materials  are  finished; — and  you 
leave  it  standing  to  posterity,  like  some  miniature  Stone- 
henge,  a  perfect  architectural  enigma."  x  After  reading  the 
Life  of  Byron,  the  reader  realises,  too,  that  he  has  a  right 
to  demand  of  the  biographer  an  interpretation — an  artistic 
production;  that  he  should  not  be  left  to  sit  down  before 
an  undigested  mass.  "  If  only  good  material  and  literary 
capacity  had  been  needed,  Moore's  Byron  ought  to  have 
been  great."  2  One  can  appreciate  the  triumph  of  Froude 
after  tasting  the  failure  of  Moore. 

Mr.  Cross'  failure  was  due,  perhaps,  to  his  carrying  the 
autobiographical  method  too  far.  "  With  the  materials  in 
my  hands,"  he  writes  in  the  Preface,  "  I  have  endeavoured 
to  form  an  autobiography  (if  the  term  may  be  permitted) 
of  George  Eliot.  The  life  has  been  allowed  to  write  itself 

1  Werner.  a  Walker,  Literature  of  the  Victorian  Era,  p.  924. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    183 

in  extracts  from  her  letters  and  journals.  Free  from  the 
intrusion  of  any  mind  but  her  own,  this  method  serves,  I 
think,  better  than  any  other  open  to  me,  to  show  the 
development  of  her  talent  and  character.  .  .  .  Excepting 
a  slight  introductory  sketch  of  the  girlhood,  up  to  the  time 
when  letters  became  available,  and  a  few  words  here  and 
there  to  elucidate  the  correspondence,  I  have  confined 
myself  to  the  work  of  selection  and  arrangement."  Not 
thus,  however,  are  great  lives  written:  interpretation  is 
wanting;  the  public  demands  a  portrait.  "  The  biography 
of  George  Eliot  as  here  given  is  a  gigantic  silhouette, 
showing  how  her  figure  rose  against  a  dull  background. 
Background  and  figure  are  alike  dull.  .  .  .  The  figure  is 
large  and  imposing,  but  it  is  lifeless."  l  It  is  perhaps  better 
to  err  in  over-emphasising  lights  and  shadows  than  to  make 
both  "  background  and  figure  alike  dull."  "  By  keeping 
himself  so  much  out  of  sight,"  suggests  the  Rev.  Thomas 
Davidson  of  Mr.  Cross,  "  the  writer  only  avoided  Scylla  to 
fall  into  Chary bdis,  and  succeeded  in  making  a  book  dull  and 
lifeless  that  should  have  been  unusually  full  of  interest." 2 
A  biography  only  becomes  "  full  of  interest  "  as  it  assumes 
artistic  form  under  the  interpreting  touch  of  the  biographer. 
Mr.  Cross  had  done  better,  perhaps — at  least  as  well — if  he 
had  merely  published  George  Eliot's  correspondence  and 
journals.  Great  biography,  in  the  opinion  of  the  nineteenth 
century,  is  not  attained  after  Mr.  Cross'  plan. 

The  nineteenth  century  produced  at  least  one  who  may 
be  called  a  professional  biographer;  "  no  one  else,"  at  any 
rate,  "  made  biography  so  much  his  business  "  as  did  John 
Forster,  the  great  and  influential  editor  of  The  Examiner. 
Forster  was  fond  of  history,  and,  like  Carlyle,  to  him  history 
crystallised  into  biography.  He  began  his  biographical 

1  Edinburgh  Review,  vol.  161,  pp.  514-53. 

1  Chambers' s  Encyclopedia,  article  "  Biography." 


r84  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

labours  as  editor  of  the  Lives  of  Eminent  British  Statesmen 
(1837-39),  to  which  he  contributed  a  number  of  the  Lives, 
afterwards  (1864)  expanding  one  of  his  contributions  into 
the  elaborate  and  important  Sir  John  Eliot,  A  Biography. 
From  these  historical  studies,  it  was  a  natural  step  into 
the  field  of  literary  biography,  and  here  Forster  wrought 
largely.  His  work  consists  of  the  Life  and  Adventures 
[later  the  Life  and  Times]  of  Oliver  Goldsmith  (1848),  the 
Life  of  Walter  Savage  Landor  (1869),  the  Life  of  Charles 
Dickens  (1872-74),  and  the  unfinished  Life  of  Jonathan 
Swift  (1875).  In  none  of  these  biographies  did  Forster 
achieve  the  highest  success:  all  of  them  are  diligently, 
laboriously,  and  well  wrought,  good  works  of  craft, 
lacking  however  the  hall-mark  of  artistic  genius,  the 
dramatic  instinct,  "  the  touch  which  imparts  life."  His 
Landor  and  Dickens  must  remain  authoritative,  the  mines 
from  which  all  later  biographers  of  these  men  must  dig; 
for  Forster  was  a  personal  friend  of  both  and  had  access 
to  materials  no  longer  available.  He  was  Landor's  literary 
executor  and  Dickens'  most  intimate  friend.  It  can  hardly 
be  said  that  a  reader  turns  to  any  of  these  biographies  for 
the  sheer  pleasure  of  reading — unless,  perchance,  it  be  to 
the  Goldsmith  ;  one  soon  gets  the  impression  that  these 
are  works  to  be  consulted  rather  than  read.  The  example 
of  Forster  leads  one  to  the  conclusion  that  great  biographies 
are  not  to  be  produced  simply  by  turning  to  the  business 
of  writing  them;  as  in  the  case  of  poets,  biographers  seem 
to  be  born  rather  than  made. 

A  noteworthy  feature  of  this  century  was  what  may  be 
termed  the  habit  of  reconstructing  a  biography;  that  is, 
the  gathering  together  of  all  available  historical  documents, 
facts,  and  traditions  relative  to  some  person  and  from  these 
distilling  something  like  the  true  story  of  this  person's 
pilgrimage  through  life.  The  habit  began  on  a  large  scale 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    185 

— not  very  auspiciously  it  may  be  remarked — with  William 
Godwin's  Life  of  Chaucer  (1803).  This  work  has  been  suffi 
ciently  ridiculed  by  Robert  Southey,  Walter  Scott,  and 
Professor  Lounsbury.  Scott  rightly  complains  that  God 
win's  researches  into  the  records  have  produced  only  "  one 
or  two  writs  addressed  to  Chaucer  while  clerk  of  the  works; 
the  several  grants  and  passports  granted  to  him  by  Edward 
III.  and  Richard  II.  which  had  been  referred  to  by  former 
biographers;  together  with  the  poet's  evidence  in  a  court 
of  chivalry,  a  contract  about  a  house,  and  a  solitary  receipt 
for  half  a  year's  salary.  These,  with  a  few  documents  refer 
ring  to  John  of  Gaunt,  make  the  appendix  to  the  book,  and 
are  the  only  original  materials  brought  to  light  by  the 
labours  of  the  author."  l  And  yet,  cries  Scott,  "  behold 
two  voluminous  quartos !  "  "  It  is,"  writes  Professor 
Lounsbury,  "  perhaps  the  earliest,  though  unhappily  not 
the  latest  or  even  the  largest,  illustration  of  that  species  of 
biography  in  which  the  lack  of  information  about  the  man 
who  is  the  alleged  subject  is  counterbalanced  by  long 
disquisitions  about  anything  or  everything  he  shared  in  or 
saw,  or  may  have  shared  in  or  seen.  .  .  .  Godwin's  life  of 
the  poet  may  indeed  be  declared  to  deserve  the  distinction 
of  being  the  most  worthless  piece  of  biography  in  the 
English  language — certainly  the  most  worthless  produced 
by  a  man  of  real  ability."  2  Robert  Southey  expressed  the 
wish  that  the  plan  on  which  Godwin  attempted  to  write 
the  Life  of  Chaucer  might  "  remain  for  ever  unique."  3 

The  work  of  such  reconstruction — in  spite  of  Godwin's 
conspicuous  failure — has  gone  steadily  forward  from  Scott's 

1  Edinburgh  Review,  Jan.  1804.  Scott  wrote  in  a  letter  to  George 
Ellis  (March  19,  1804),  "...  nor  have  I  either  inclination  or  talents 
to  use  the  critical  scalping  knife  unless,  as  in  the  case  of  Godwin,  where 
flesh  and  blood  succumbed  under  the  temptation." — Lockhart's  Life 
of  Scott,  vol.  i.  p.  414. 

*  Studies  in  Chaucer,  vol.  i.  pp.  192-4. 

*  Annual  Review,  vol.  ii.  p.  456. 


1 86  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Dryden  (1808)  to  Sidney  Lee's  Shakespeare  (1898).  Really 
valuable  work  has  been  done  and  a  certain  success  attained 
by  David  Masson,  whose  Life  of  Milton  and  History  of  his 
Time  (1859-1880)  and  Drummond  of  Hawthornden  will  long 
remain  as  monuments  of  painstaking  scholarship;  by 
James  Spedding  in  his  Life  of  Bacon  (1861);  by  Professor 
Thomas  Lounsbury  in  his  Studies  in  Chaucer  (1892);  and 
by  George  A.  Aitken  in  his  Life  of  Richard  Steele  (1889), 
which  may  be  recognised  as  "  the  fullest  and  most  trust 
worthy  existing  contribution  towards  the  life  and  achieve 
ments  of  a  distinguished  man  of  letters  who  died  more  than 
a  hundred  and  eighty  years  ago."  * 

This  work  of  reconstructing  biographies  has  been  greatly 
aided  by  the  collection  and  publication  of  all  available 
material — which  collection  and  publication  it  has  indeed 
stimulated  and  fostered.  Diaries  such  as  those  of  Pepys 
and  Evelyn;  Journals  as  of  Wesley,  Fox,  and  Scott; 
volumes  of  Correspondence  without  number;  such  editions 
as  those  put  forth  by  Andrew  Clark  of  John  Aubrey's 
4  Brief  Lives  '  and  of  the  Life  and  Times  of  Anthony  Wood, 
together  with  the  publications  of  such  associations  as  the 
Chaucer  Society-  are  making  the  work  of  the  redivival 
biographer  easier. 

The  scientific  spirit  which  entered  into  historical  writing 
at  the  beginning  of  the  nineteenth  century  has  dominated 
the  writing  of  such  biographical  reconstruction  as  has  just 
been  discussed.  Biography,  as  a  form  of  history,  has  felt 
the  effect  of  "  the  machinery  of  research,"  and  can  never 
again  be  the  unauthentic,  half-traditionary  thing  it  was 
before.2  In  the  cases  of  all  those  whose  lives  have  not  been 

1  Austin  Dobson,  Eighteenth  Century  Studies,  "  The  Latest  Life 
of  Steele,"  Dent's  "  Wayfarer's  Library." 

8  "  In  the  nineteenth  century  the  science  of  history  underwent  a 
sort  of  industrial  revolution.  The  machinery  of  research,  invented 
by  the  genius  of  men  like  Mabillon,  was  perfected  and  set  going  in  al 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    187 

produced  by  contemporaries,  or  by  those  closely  con 
temporary,  biography  has  followed  the  direction  of  modern 
scientific  research;  in  the  case  of  contemporary  work,  it 
follows  the  carefully  arranged  autobiographical  method, 
which  in  turn  is  dominated  by  scientific  accuracy. 

In  the  first  half  of  the  nineteenth  century  there  was  a 
definite  turning  of  English  biography  to  foreign  countries 
for  subject  matter.  The  impetus  to  this  wider  outlook  was 
given  chiefly  by  Thomas  Carlyle,  "  the  really  efficient  inter 
mediary  between  the  mind  of  Germany  and  that  of  Eng 
land."  Carlyle,  with  his  enthusiasm  for  Goethe,  and  with 
his  essays  on  German  literature,  aided  by  the  rising  influ 
ence  of  Berthold  George  Niebuhr's  historical  writings,  paved 
the  way  for  German  biography  written  in  English.  We  are 
not  surprised,  therefore,  to  find  that  it  was  to  Germany 
that  English  biographers  first  began  to  turn,  to  an  appre 
ciable  extent,  for  subjects.  The  list  of  such  biographies  is 
not  inconsiderable;  and,  in  the  main,  where  both  have 
written  of  the  same  man,  the  work  done  by  British,  has 
scarcely  been  excelled  even  by  German,  biographers. 
George  Henry  Lewes  began  his  Life  of  Goethe  at  a  time 
when  no  German  author  had  undertaken  the  task;  in  fact, 
it  is  no  exaggeration  to  say  that  the  spur  given  by  this 
endeavour  of  Lewes  proved  the  stimulus  for  the  beginning, 
by  the  Germans  themselves,  of  modern  German  biography. 
It  is  significant  that  Lewes  dedicated  his  work  to  Thomas 
Carlyle,  as  to  one  "  who  first  taught  England  to  appreciate 
Goethe."  It  was  not,  perhaps,  until  the  appearance  of 
Dr.  Albert  Bielschowsky's  Life  of  Goethe  (1895)  that  the 

the  archives  of  Europe.  Isolated  workers  or  groups  of  workers  grew 
into  national  or  international  associations,  producing  from  archives 
vast  collections  of  material  to  be  worked  up  into  the  artistic  form 
of  history.  The  result  of  this  movement  has  been  to  revolutionise 
the  whole  subject." — James  Thomson  Shotwell,  Encyclopedia 
Bntannica,  article  "  History." 


1 88  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Germans  produced  a  biography  of  their  great  poet  worthy 
to  take  its  place  with  that  by  Lewes.  In  1882,  J.  H.  W. 
Stuckenberg  published  the  first  English  biography  of 
Immanuel  Kant,  likewise  at  a  time  when  even  in  Germany 
little  attention  had  been  given  to  the  life  of  the  philosopher, 
and  when  German  biographies  of  him  were  far  from  satis 
factory.  To  the  department  of  German  biographical  his 
tory  Carlyle's  Frederick  the  Great  (1858-65)  and  John  Robert 
Seeley's  Life  and  Times  of  Stein  (1878)  remain  as  monu 
mental  contributions.  "  Surely,"  writes  Professor  Walker, 
"  no  higher  compliment  was  ever  paid  to  a  historian  than 
that  which  is  implied  in  the  German  belief  that,  down  to 
the  opening  of  the  German  archives,  and  the  publication  of 
the  correspondence  of  Frederick  in  the  eighties,  Carlyle's 
work  was  the  best,  not  only  as  a  general  history  of  Frederick, 
but  as  a  study  of  his  campaigns."  *  In  a  lesser  way,  William 
Stigand's  Heine  (1875)  anc^  James  Simes'  Lessing  (1877) 
demonstrate  the  competence  of  the  English  biographer  in 
the  province  of  German  literature.  Many  German  bio 
graphical  works  were  meanwhile  translated  into  English, 
such  as  the  Life  and,  Letters  of  Niebuhr,2  the  Life  of  Schleier- 
macher*  and  Heinrich  Diintzer's  Schiller  and  Goethe. 
Before  the  end  of  the  century  English  biographers  had 
become  thoroughly  international.  Henry  Morley  with  his 
fascinating  Life  of  Jerome  Cardan  (1854);  J°^n  Morley 
with  his  Rousseau  (1873),  the  first  full  biographical  account 
of  the  French  philosopher  in  English,  published  when 
"  even  France  had  nothing  more  complete  than  Musset- 
Pathay's  Histoire  de  la  Vie  et  des  Outrages  de  J.  J.  Rousseau 
(1821)  ";  and  John  Addington  Symond's  Life  of  Michael- 
angelo  Buonarroti  (1893),  based  on  studies  in  the  archives 

1  Literature  of  the  Victorian  Era,  p.  66. 

2  Edited  and  translated  by  Susanna  Winkworth. 

3  As  unfolded  in  his  Autobiography  and  Letters,  translated  by 
Frederica  Rowan. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    189 

of   the   Buonarroti   family   at   Florence,   have   helped   to 
uphold  the  traditions  of  English  biography  abroad. 

So  strong  is  the  personal  element  in  a  publishing  com 
pany  or  a  magazine  that  a  record  of  its  life  necessarily 
assumes  the  form,  not  so  much  of  history  as  of  biography. 
Two  of  the  oldest  publishing  houses  of  Britain  have  been 
thus  biographically  chronicled.  The  first  to  turn  seriously 
to  such  narrative  was  Samuel  Smiles,  who,  after  John 
Forster,  came  nearest  to  being  a  professional  biographer, 
though  on  a  lower  plane.  In  1891  he  completed  his  John 
Murray,  the  full  title  of  which  reveals  the  scope  of  the 
work  attempted.1  It  was  the  intention  of  Smiles  to  give  a 
"  full  picture  of  the  literature  and  principal  men  of  letters 
of  the  first  half  of  the  present  [nineteenth]  century  ";  and 
not  alone  this,  for  by  "  going  still  farther  back — to  the  life 
and  correspondence  of  the  late  Mr.  Murray's  father — [to] 
include,  to  a  certain  extent,  the  literature  of  the  times  of 
Dr.  Johnson,  Dr.  Langhorne,  Dr.  Cartwright,  and  others." 
In  1897  Margaret  Oliphant  followed  with  William  Black- 
wood  and  his  Sons,  only  two  volumes  of  which  she  lived  to 
complete.  Mrs.  Oliphant's  work  excels  in  the  delineation 
of  character — most  of  her  portraits,  even  to  the  slight 
sketches,  are  well  done — but  it  lacks  something  of  the  con 
centration  and  coherence  of  Smiles'.  America,  likewise,  has 
produced  two  literary  histories  on  this  same  biographical 
principle.  Benjamin  Blake  Minor  in  his  The  Southern 
Literary  Messenger  summarises  the  history  of  this  aspiring 
but  ill-fated  magazine,  and  incidentally  somewhat  of  the 
story  of  many  of  the  authors  who  became  well  known  in  the 
annals  of  nineteenth-century  American  literature;  for  this 
magazine,  it  may  be  noted,  during  its  comparatively  brief 
and  troubled  career,  introduced  many  of  these  authors  to 

1  A  Publisher  and  his  Friends.  Memoir  and  Correspondence  of  the 
late  John  Murray,  with  an  account  of  the  Origin  and  Progress  of  the 
House,  1768-1843. 


190  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

the  reading  public.  It  is  to  be  regretted  that  Mr.  Minor  did 
not  develop  more  fully  the  work  to  which  he  set  his  hand. 
Much  more  elaborate  in  both  design  and  execution — in  fact, 
one  of  the  best  contributions  to  this  class  of  biographical 
literature — is  J.  Rainey  Harper's  The  House  of  Harper* 
Mr.  Harper's  volume  contains  excellent  reminiscences  of 
both  American  and  English  authors,  and  thus  binds  together 
the  course  of  English  literature  in  the  Old  World  and  the 
New. 

Although  during  the  nineteenth  century  the  distinction 
between  history  and  biography  was  clearly  recognised, 
nevertheless,  in  many  biographical  works,  there  was  a  close 
commingling  of  the  two.  In  some  instances,  this  comming 
ling  was  the  deliberate  intention  of  the  writer;  in  others, 
the  almost  necessary  result  of  the  subject  chosen  for  bio 
graphical  treatment.  For  example,  although  David  Masson 
indicated  on  the  title  page  of  his  Life  of  John  Milton  that  he 
intended  the  work  to  be  more  than  a  Life*  he  felt  it  neces 
sary  to  repeat  in  the  Preface  that  he  meant  it  to  be  not 
merely  a  biography  of  Milton,  "  but  also,  in  some  sort,  a 
continuous  history  of  his  time."  Those  critics,  therefore, 
who  have  criticised  the  work  from  the  point  of  view  of  pure 
biography,  and  who  have  maintained  that  Professor  Masson 
has  buried  Milton  "  under  a  load  of  digressive  dissertations," 
are  misjudging  him :  he  at  least  did  what  he  started  out  to 
do.  Carlyle,  in  his  Oliver  Cromwell  and  Frederick  the  Great, 
found  that  he  could  scarcely  do  otherwise  than  go  beyond 
the  mere  personal  narrative;  the  lives  of  his  subjects,  he 

1  Although  The  House  of  Harper  was  published  in  1912,  it  has  been 
thought  best  to  mention  it  here. 

*  The  Life  of  John  Milton  :  narrated  in  connexion  with  the  political, 
ecclesiastical,  and  literary  history  of  his  Time.  Carlyle  spoke  of 
"  David  Masson,  sincere  and  sure  of  purpose;  very  brave,  for  he 
has  undertaken  to  write  a  history  of  the  universe  from  1608  to  1674, 
calling  it  a  '  Life  of  John  Milton.'  " — Quoted  by  Campbell  Fraser  in 
Biographia  Philosophica,  p.  246. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY    191 

perceived,  were  inextricably  bound  up  with  the  history  of 
the  times.  Not  alone  biography,  then,  nor  yet  simply 
history,  but  history  presented  biographically,  these  two 
works  fulfil  the  purpose  Carlyle  had  in  mind.  "  It  was  an 
enormous  undertaking,"  says  Froude  of  the  Frederick, 
"  nothing  less  than  the  entire  history,  secular  and  spiritual, 
of  the  eighteenth  century."  l  To  attain  success  in  such  an 
undertaking  was  no  small  matter,  and  yet  success  Carlyle 
attained.  "  The  book  [Frederick],"  continues  Froude, 
"  contained,  if  nothing  else,  a  gallery  of  historical  figures 
executed  with  a  skill  which  placed  Carlyle  at  the  head  of 
literary  portrait  painters."  a  After  reading  the  work,  Pro 
fessor  Barrett  Wendell  commented  thus  enthusiastically: 
"  Such  a  mass  of  living  facts — for  somehow  Carlyle  never 
lets  a  fact  lack  life — I  had  never  seen  flung  together  before; 
and  yet  the  one  chief  impression  I  brought  away  from  the 
book  was  that  to  a  degree  rare  even  in  very  small  ones  it 
possessed  as  a  whole  the  great  trait  of  unity.  In  one's 
memory,  each  fact  by  and  by  fell  into  its  own  place;  the 
chief  ones  stood  out;  the  lesser  sank  back  into  a  confused 
but  not  inextricable  mass  of  throbbing  vitality.  And  from 
it  all  emerged  more  and  more  clearly  the  one  central  figure 
who  gave  his  name  to  the  whole — Frederick  of  Prussia.  It 
was  as  they  bore  on  him  from  all  quarters  of  time  and  space, 
and  as  he  reacted  on  them  far  and  wide,  that  all  these  events 
and  all  these  people  were  brought  back  out  of  their  dusty 
graves  to  live  again.  Whatever  else  Carlyle  was,  the  unity 
of  this  enormous  book  proves  him,  when  he  chose  to  be,  a 
Titanic  artist."  3  M.  Taine  felt  the  power  of  Cromwell  : 
"  His  narrative,"  writes  the  French  critic,  "  resembles  that 
of  an  eye-witness.  A  Covenanter  who  should  have  collected 
letters,  scraps  of  newspapers,  and  had  daily  added  reflec- 

1  Life  of  Carlyle  in  London,  vol.  ii.  p.  86.  Ibid.  p.  284. 

8  English  Composition,  p.  158. 


192  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

tions,  interpretations,  notes,  and  anecdotes,  might  have 
written  just  such  a  book.  At  last  we  are  face  to  face  with 
Cromwell.  .  .  .  Would  that  all  history  were  like  this,  a 
selection  of  texts  provided  with  a  commentary!  I  would 
exchange  for  such  a  history  all  the  regular  arguments,  all 
the  beautiful  colourless  narrations  of  Robertson  and 
Hume." 1  All  in  all,  wrestlings  with  combinations  of 
history  and  biography  have  ever  proved  most  difficult; 
Carlyle's  triumphs  have  scarcely  been  surpassed. 

Of  one  other  type  of  biography  Carlyle  left  a  model  in 
the  Life  of  John  Sterling  (1851).  A  few  years  before, 
Carlyle  had  written  that  "  there  is  no  heroic  poem  in  the 
world  but  is  at  bottom  a  biography,  the  life  of  a  man :  also, 
it  may  be  said,  there  is  no  life  of  a  man,  faithfully  recorded, 
but  is  a  heroic  poem  of  its  sort,  rhymed  or  unrhymed."  2 
It  remained  for  him  to  produce,  in  memory  of  his  friend, 
"  an  unrhymed  heroic  poem."  Julius  Hare  had  first  written 
a  Life  of  Sterling3  which,  in  its  account  of  Sterling's 
religious  life,  did  not  please  Carlyle.  "  He  had  waited,"  says 
Froude  of  Carlyle,  in  telling  the  story  of  the  Life  of  Sterling, 
4t  partly  from  want  of  composure,  partly  that  the  dust  might 
settle  a  little;  and  now,  having  leisure  on  his  hands,  and 
being  otherwise  in  the  right  mood,  he  re-read  Sterling's 
letters,  collected  information  from  surviving  relatives,  and 
without  difficulty — indeed,  with  entire  ease  and  rapidity — 
he  produced  in  three  months  what  is  perhaps  the  most 
beautiful  biography  in  the  English  language.  .  .  .  Sterling's 
life  had  been  a  short  one.  His  history  was  rather  that  of  the 
formation  of  a  beautiful  character  than  of  accomplished 
achievement;  at  once  the  most  difficult  to  delineate,  yet 
the  most  instructive  if  delineated  successfully.  .  .  .  Some- 

1  History  of  English  Literature  (Edinburgh,  1871),  vol.  ii.  pp.  470-1. 

2  Sir  Walter  Scott. 

3  Prefixed  to  Essays  and  Tales  by  John  Sterling,  1848. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY     193 

thing  of  the  high  purpose  which  Carlyle  assigns  to  Sterling 
was  perhaps  reflected  from  himself,  as  with  a  lover's 
portrait  of  his  mistress;  yet  his  account  of  him  is  essentially 
as  true  as  it  is  affectionate."  l  The  work  is  much  greater 
than  Johnson's  Life  of  Savage,  which  it  resembles;  indeed 
it  is  difficult  to  find  a  work  with  which  to  compare  the  Life 
of  Sterling  :  it  belongs  in  the  class  of  those  commemorative 
poems,  Lycidas,  Tbyrsis,  In  Memoriam.  On  John  Sterling, 
Carlyle  is,  beyond  all  cavil,  "  definite  and  final."  2 

More  and  more,  as  the  century  drew  near  its  close,  did 
the  conviction  deepen  that  the  great  biography  is  a  work 
of  art,  a  created,  a  "  fictive  "  thing.3  "  The  biographer," 
writes  the  Rev.  Thomas  Davidson,  "  must  be  more  than 
the  mere  realist  who  can  photograph  facts — he  must  be 
something  of  the  idealist  as  well,  for  he  has  to  create  as 
well  as  to  reproduce:  and  we  value  a  biography  exactly 
in  proportion  as  its  author  has  succeeded  in  creating  for  us 
the  character  of  a  new  man  or  woman  to  be  added  to  our 
own  personal  acquaintance."  4  It  is  impossible  not  to  feel 
the  force  of  this  truth;  as  has  been  suggested  by  Gladstone, 
and  as  has  been  proved  by  so  many  biographies,  no  mere 
transcript  can  give  us  a  notion  of  the  man.  Hence  arises  the 
necessity  of  the  biographer's  being  also  an  artist,  and  of  the 

1  Carlyle's  Life  in  London,  vol.  ii.  pp.  68-74. 

1  Trevelyan  regrets  that  Macaulay's  prejudice  prevented  his 
reading  Carlyle's  Sterling.  "  Little  as  he  was  aware  of  it,  it  was  no 
slight  privation  .  .  .  that  one  who  so  keenly  relished  the  exquisite 
trifling  of  Plato  should  never  have  tasted  the  description  of  Cole 
ridge's  talk  in  the  Life  of  Sterling — a  passage  which  yields  to  nothing 
of  its  own  class  in  the  Protagoras  or  the  Symposium." — Life  of 
Macaulay,  vol.  ii.  p.  460. 

3  Note  what  Mr.  Oliver  Elton  has  to  say  in  this  connexion:  "  In 
all  the  dramatic  scenes  of  Scott's  life  he  [Lockhart]  shows  the  power, 
though  he  never  falls  into  the  risks  of  the  novelist.  We  do  not  feel 
that  the  scene  has  been  arranged  in  his  fancy  afterwards,  and  the 
values  perverted  to  give  a  nobler  effect  than  the  truth." — A  Survey 
of  English  Literature,  1780-1830,  vol.  i.  pp.  414-5.  Cf.  also  what 
Wordsworth  wrote,  quoted  on  p.  230  of  the  present  work. 

*  Chambers's  Encyclopedia,  article  "  Biography." 

N 


194  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

public's  conceding  to  him  the  freedom  to  work  as  an  artist. 
Not  thus,  indeed,  is  the  task  of  the  biographer  lightened; 
instead  it  is  made  far  more  difficult  and  dangerous. 
"  Modern  scholarship  demands,  of  course,  that  there  shall 
be  no  transgressions  against  the  truth  ";  with  this  statement 
of  Professor  Albert  Elmer  Hancock  we  must  all  agree;  but 
until,  in  his  own  phrase  again,  biography  attains  "  the 
dramatic  vitality  of  fiction,"  l  we  cannot  allot  to  it  the 
highest,  indeed  its  true,  place  in  literature. 

The  line  between  truth  and  fiction  in  life  narrative  is 
perilously  shadowy.  "  The  distinction  between  biography 
and  fiction  is  easily  obliterated  when  the  greatness  of  the 
subject  has  elements  of  the  sublime,  and  when  the  tempta 
tion  to  add  to  the  interest  of  the  description  by  means  of 
exaggeration  is  strong."  2  At  this  point,  we  recognise  that 
in  no  other  department  of  literature  is  an  author  confronted 
with  a  more  perilous  task  than  when  he  undertakes  to 
write  biography.  We  are  reminded  of  Egerton  Brydges* 
Imaginative  Biography,  the  title  of  which  he  explains  by 
saying  that  he  has  erected  "  an  imaginary  superstructure 
on  the  known  facts  of  the  biography  of  eminent  char 
acters."  3  Mr.  Brydges*  volumes  contain  examples  of  the 
method,  as  the  title  is  a  warning  of  the  danger,  into  which 
every  biographer  may  stray. 

The  work  faintly  shadowed  forth  by  John  Boston,  and 
continued  from  Leland  to  Rose's  New  General  Biographical 
Dictionary,  culminated  in  this  century  in  the  monumental 
Dictionary  of  National  Biography.  This  work  originated  in 
the  mind  of  George  Smith  in  1 88 1,  and,  as  first  contemplatedf" 
was  to  be  universal  in  scope;  upon  the  advice  of  Leslie 
Stephen,  however,  it  was  determined  that  it  should  be  only 
national.  Stephen  held  the  editorship  from  November 

1  A.  E.  Hancock,  John  Keats. 

3  J.  H.  W.  Stuckenberg,  Life  of  Immanuel  Kant,  Preface. 

8  Imaginative  Biography  (1834),  Preface. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY     195 

1882  until  April  1891,  when  he  was  succeeded  by  Sidney 
Lee,  who  had  Been  Mr.  Stephen's  assistant  since  March  1883, 
and  joint  editor  of  the  work  from  the  beginning  of  1890. 
The  first  volume  appeared  in  January  1885,  and,  according 
to  plan,  the  succeeding  volumes  were  issued  quarterly 
without  interruption.  Thus  was  fulfilled  the  design  of  "  a 
complete  dictionary  of  national  biography  which  should 
supply  full,  accurate,  and  concise  biographies  of  all  note 
worthy  inhabitants  of  the  British  Islands  and  the  Colonies 
(exclusive  of  living  persons)  from  the  earliest  historical 
period  to  the  present."  Only  one  other  such  work — the 
Biographia  Britannica — had  ever  been  brought  to  com 
pletion  in  England,  Not  unfittingly  was  it  said  that, 
"  Similar  works  have  been  produced  in  foreign  countries 
under  the  auspices  of  State-aided  literary  academies,  or 
have  been  subsidised  by  the  national  exchequers.  It  is  in 
truer  accord  with  the  self-reliant  temper  of  the  British  race 
that  the  Dictionary  of  National  Biography  is  the  outcome 
of  private  enterprise  and  the  handwork  of  private  citizens."  * 
Appleton's  Cyclopedia  of  American  Biography,  edited  by 
James  Grant  Wilson  and  John  Fiske,  1887-89,  while  filling 
an  important  place,  falls  far  below  the  Dictionary  of  National 
Biography,  in  both  plan  and  execution.  It  is  less  definitive, 
in  that  it  is  not  limited  to  deceased  persons,  and  was  pro 
duced  much  too  rapidly  and  hence  without  the  proper  com 
pleteness.  A  Dictionary  of  American  Biography  on  a  proper 
plan  is  yet  a  desideratum. 

We  have  heretofore  remarked  that  during  this  century 
biography  became  a  business :  in  no  other  manner,  perhaps, 
did  the  extent  of  this  business — and  likewise  the  extent  of 
the  demand  for  biography — make  itself  so  demonstrably 
evident  as  in  the  number  and  scope  of  the  "  Biographical 

1  See  "  A  Statistical  Account,"  vol.  Ixiii.  Dictionary  of  National 
Biography. 


196  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Series  "  which  have  become  so  marked  a  feature  of  our 
time.  Mr.  John  Morley,  in  1877,  projected  the  English  Men 
of  Letters  series  which  became  the  model  for  most  of  those 
which  have  followed.  We  have  but  to  mention  the  English 
Men  of  Action,  English  Worthies,  English  Statesmen, 
Eminent  Women,  The  Queen's  Prime  Ministers,  Famous 
Scots,  Great  Writers,  Heroes  of  the  Nations,  Westminster 
Biographies,  Great  Craftsmen,  Makers  of  British  Art, 
Modern  English  Writers,  Great  Educators,  American  Men 
of  Letters,  The  World's  Epoch-Makers,  English  Men  of 
Science,  and  The  Master  Musicians,  to  give  some  notion  of 
the  place  in  English  literature  filled  by  these  "  Biographical 
Series." 

The  principal  object  of  these  different  series  is  to  present 
in  brief  compass  the  essential  facts  in  the  lives  of  the  sub 
jects;  in  other  words,  most  of  the  biographies  assume  the 
form  of  biographical  essays — at  best,  artistic  and  delightful 
sketches;  at  worst,  industrious  compilations.  "My  chief 
employment  at  this  time,"  wrote  Leslie  Stephen  to  Charles 
Eliot  Norton,  "is  doing  a  little  book  on  Sam.  Johnson,  for 
a  series  of  which  Morley  is  editor.  ...  I  am  half  ashamed 
of  the  business  in  one  way,  for  it  seems  wicked  to  pick  the 
plums  out  of  poor  old  Bozzy,  and  yet  that  is  all  that  is  to 
be  done."  1  The  value  of  such  series  for  reference  has  been 
amply  demonstrated  by  the  manner  in  which  they  have 
supplied  a  demand;  the  methods  employed,  apart  from  the 
"  plum-picking  "  mentioned  by  Stephen,  are  the  necessary 
result  of  the  limits  set  by  the  scope  of  the  series,  and  are 
nowhere  better  set  forth  than  in  Mrs.  Jebb's  statement  in 
regard  to  the  volume  on  Bentley  contributed  by  Professor 
R.  C.  Jebb  to  the  English  Men  of  Letters  series.  "  He  greatly 
enjoyed  writing  this  book,"  says  Mrs.  Jebb,  "  though  the 

1  In  letter  (Dec.  23,  1877)  quoted  by  Frederic  Maitland,  Life  of 
Leslie  Stephen,  pp.  304-5. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19x11  CENTURY     197 

lesson  it  taught  him  was  never  again  to  have  part  or  lot  in 
a  series  of  any  kind.  It  is  a  sort  of  Procrustean  bed.  No 
matter  how  much  an  author  has  to  tell,  his  narrative  must 
be  cut  off  if  it  grows  beyond  a  certain  length.  Now,  his 
writing  was  never  diffuse,  and  to  compress  what  was 
already  compressed  to  the  limit  of  artistic  proportion  was 
in  his  judgment  to  spoil.  .  .  .  When  printed  it  was  found 
to  exceed  by  fifty  pages  the  designated  number  allotted  for 
the  series,  and  the  author  had  to  find  what  time  he  could 
for  pruning  its  excess."  l  In  short,  the  series  illustrate 
commercialised  biographical  production. 

A  respectable  volume  devoted  to  nineteenth-century 
criticism  of  biography  could  be  collected  from  such  reviews 
as  those  written  by  Southey,  Scott,  Jeffrey,  Carlyle,  Glad 
stone,  et  al.,  and  from  prefaces  and  introductions  to  bio 
graphies,  as  well  as  from  scattered  statements  in  the 
biographies  themselves.  Biography  has  proceeded,  however, 
without  formal  study;  it  is  highly  significant  that  no 
separate  volume  devoted  wholly  to  the  criticism  of  bio 
graphy  appeared  2  until  the  publication  of  Sir  Sidney  Lee's 
"Leslie  Stephen  Lecture"  at  Cambridge  1911,  on  the 
Principles  of  Biography,  to  which  volume  we  must  neces 
sarily  go  for  a  brief  summation  of  all  the  past  criticism  of 
English  biography.  As  far  back  as  1835,  ^  mav  De  pointed 
out,  Francis  Jeffrey  distinguished  three  kinds  of  biographies 
— those  dealing  "  chiefly  with  the  lives  of  leaders  in  great 
and  momentous  transactions  ";  those  deriving  their  interest 
from  diaries  and  journals,  the  works  of  "  autobiographers 
who,  without  having  themselves  done  anything  memorable, 
have  yet  had  the  good  luck  to  live  through  long  and  interest 
ing  periods  "  ;  and  those  dealing  with  "  philosophers  and 
men  of  genius  and  speculation  .  .  .  whose  biographies  are 

1  Life  ofR.  C.  Jebb,  pp.  232-5. 

1  Except  the  brief  sketch  by  Edward  Edwards  in  A  Handbook  to 
the  Literature  of  General  Biography  (1885). 


198  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

to  be  regarded  either  as  supplements  to  the  works  they 
have  given  to  the  world,  or  substitutes  for  those  which  they 
might  have  given  .  .  .  histories,  not  of  men,  but  of 
minds."  1  These  types  are  recognised  to-day  substantially 
as  set  forth  by  Jeffrey. 

It  was  in  this  review,  also,  that  Jeffrey  pleaded  the  cause 
of  the  man  of  letters.  He  pleaded,  likewise,  for  the  recog 
nition  of  what  Johnson  called  the  art  of  "  writing  trifles 
with  dignity."  "  Wheresoever  there  is  power  and  native 
genius,"  wrote  Jeffrey,  "  we  cannot  but  grudge  the  sup 
pression  of  the  least  of  its  revelations;  and  are  persuaded 
that  with  those  who  can  judge  of  such  intellects,  they  will 
never  lose  anything  by  the  most  lavish  and  indiscriminate 
disclosures.  Which  of  Swift's  most  elaborate  productions* 
is  at  this  day  half  so  interesting  as  that  most  confidential 
Journal  to  Stella?  Or  which  of  them,  with  all  its  utter 
carelessness  of  expression,  its  manifold  contradictions,  its 
infantine  fondness,  and  all  its  quick-shifting  moods,  of  kind 
ness,  selfishness,  anger,  and  ambition,  gives  us  half  so  strong 
an  impression  either  of  his  amiableness  or  his  vigour  ?  How 
much,  in  like  manner,  is  Johnson  raised  in  our  estima 
tion,  not  only  as  to  intellect  but  personal  character,  by  the 
industrious  eavesdropping  of  Boswell,  setting  down  day  by 
day  in  his  notebook  the  fragments  of  his  most  loose  and 
unweighed  conversations  ?  Or  what,  in  fact,  is  there  so 
precious  in  the  works  or  the  histories  of  eminent  men  from 
Cicero  to  Horace  Walpole  as  collections  of  their  private 
and  familiar  letters  ?  What  would  we  not  give  for  such  a 
journal — such  notes  of  conversations,  or  such  letters,  of 
Shakespeare,  Chaucer,  or  Spenser?  The  mere  drudges  or 
coxcombs  of  literature  may  indeed  suffer  by  such  dis 
closures — as  made-up  beauties  might  do  by  being  caught 

1  Edinburgh  Review,  Oct.  1835,  "  Memoirs  of  Sir  James  Mackin 
tosh  ";  Contributions  to  the  Edinburgh  Review,  vol.  iv.  pp.  501-7. 


BIOGRAPHY  IN  THE  19™  CENTURY     199 

in  undress:  but  all  who  are  really  worth  knowing  about 
will,  on  the  whole,  be  gainers;  and  we  should  be  well  con 
tent  to  have  no  biographies  but  of  those  who  would  profit, 
as  well  as  their  readers,  by  being  shown  in  new  or  in  nearer 
lights.  ...  So  far,  therefore,  from  thinking  the  biography 
of  men  of  genius  barren  or  unprofitable  because  presenting 
few  events  or  personal  adventures,  we  cannot  but  regard 
it,  when  constructed  in  substance  of  such  materials  as  we 
have  now  mentioned,  as  the  most  instructive  and  interest 
ing  of  all  writing — embodying  truth  and  wisdom  in  the 
vivid  distinctness  of  a  personal  presentment — enabling  us 
to  look  on  genius  in  its  first  elementary  stirrings,  and  in  its 
weakness  as  well  as  its  strength — and  teaching  us  at  the 
same  time  great  moral  lessons,  both  as  to  the  value  of 
labour,  and  industry,  and  the  necessity  of  virtues,  as  well 
as  intellectual  endowments,  for  the  attaining  of  lasting 
excellence."  The  nineteenth  was  the  century  of  triumph  for 
men  of  letters,  and  for  just  such  biographical  representa 
tion  as  Jeffrey  here  discusses. 

A  great  century  of  fulfilment  it  was  in  this  department 
of  letters!  With  a  flood  of  what  was  worthless  or  only 
ephemeral,  there  were  also  produced  a  few  works  which 
must  long  endure.  A  tribute  is  also  due  to  the  English 
reading  public  in  that,  in  an  age  reputedly  given  up  to  the 
reading  of  fiction,  readers  have  demanded  biography  in 
quantity  well  nigh  equal  to  that  of  fiction.  A  century 
which  produced  so  many  men  worthy  of  record,  so  many 
biographies  worthy  of  their  subjects,  and  readers  in  such 
abundance,  is  a  century  worthy  of  the  most  careful  study, 
and  one  destined  to  leave  a  lasting  impression  upon  the  life 
of  mankind. 


;oo  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


CHAPTER  VIII 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY    IN    THE    NINETEENTH    CENTURY 

AUTOBIOGRAPHY,  no  less  truly  than  biography,  was 
characteristic  of  the  nineteenth  century.  A  student  of  the 
form  is  at  first  inclined  to  be  overwhelmed  by  what  seems 
an  "  embarrassment  of  riches."  He  soon  discovers,  however, 
that  excellence  is  rare,  and  that  the  line  of  development,  if 
somewhat  subtile,  is  yet  clear.  We  have  already  seen  that 
biography  has  developed  in  the  direction  of  a  method — a 
method  more  or  less  carefully  followed  by  all  competent 
biographers.  The  development  of  autobiography,  on  the 
other  hand,  has  been  in  the  direction  of  a  manner — and 
that  a  manner  of  personal  revelation.  There  are  vital 
differences  between  biography  and  autobiography.  Bio 
graphy  has  been  admirably  referred  to  as  "  a  study  sharply 
defined  by  two  definite  events,  birth  and  death."  Thus,  a 
true  biography  is  complete — it  is  a  finished  product  wrought 
by  an  artist  out  of  materials  apart  from  himself.  Thejtrue 
autobiography,  however,  is  but  a  torso — it  cannot  be  com 
plete;  and  it  is  spun  from  the  very  vitals  of  its  author.  We 
must  expect,  then,  in  autobiography,  wide  manifestations 
of  personality  with  much  less  limitation  of  method  than  in 
biography.  The  study  of  nineteenth-century  autobiography 
becomes,  therefore,  a  study  of  lives  personally  revealed — of 
personal  revelations  falling  into  groups  determined  not  so 
much  by  conscious  purpose  or  imitation  as  by  similarity  of 
mind  and  character,  or  by  the  force  of  some  dominant 
intellectual  movement. 

In  the  light  of  these  considerations,  it  becomes  evident 


AUTOBIOGRAPHY  IN  19™  CENTURY    201 

that  autobiography  impinges  upon  the  realm  of  psychology; 
autobiographies  are  psychological  documents  of  the  greatest 
importance.  It  is  significant,  in  this  connexion,  that  the 
only  books  in  the  English  language  devoted  exclusively  to 
a  consideration  of  autobiography — Anna  Robeson  Burr's 
The  Autobiography ,  and  Religious  Confessions  and  Con- 
fessants — are  written  from  the  psychological  point  of  view.1 
The  pioneer  work  of  Mrs.  Burr  in  this  department  of 
literature  and  psychology  helps  us  to  an  understanding  of 
principles  involved  in  the  manifest  tendency  of  English 
autobiography  to  arrange  itself  into  groups. 

Mrs.  Burr,  following  Gustave  Le  Bon,  points  out  that  all 
persons  writing  their  own  lives  during  the  same  decade  or 
half  century  would  not  necessarily  fall  into  the  same  group. 
It  has  already  been  remarked,  for  example,  that  different 
groups  may  exist  during  the  same  era:  thus,  in  England,  A 

the  Quaker  journalists  form  a  separate  and  distinct  cluster, 
unconnected  with  the  secular  personal  records  of  the  time. 
Sporadic  cases  of  self-study  occur  wholly  outside  of  any 
contemporary  influences.  Where  people  have  met  and 
known  one  another,  or  observed  and  imitated  one  another, 
or  have  merely  fallen  under  similar  prevailing  influences, 
we  are  warranted  in  grouping  them  together.  Where  con 
temporary  self-biographies  display  the  same  methods  of 
presentation,  the  same  subjective  view-point,  similar  sides 
of  frankness,  similar  corners  of  reticence,  we  are  warranted 
in  grouping  them  together.  As  to  the  personal  influence 
exerted  by  an  autobiographer,  and  the  imitation  consequent 
thereupon,  definite  conclusions  are  not  possible.  "  Proof 
in  chapter  and  verse/'  remarks  Mrs.  Burr,  "  is  not  always 

1  These  books,  it  may  be  well  to  state,  are  not  limited  to  a  discus 
sion  of  English  works;  they  are  comparative  studies.  The  reader's 
attention  is  also  called  to  a  recent  German  work,  Georg  Misch's 
Geschichte  der  Autobiographic.  So  far  as  I  know  these  are  the  only 
books  dealing  directly  with  the  subject. 


202  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

forthcoming;  the  subject  himself  may  be  ignorant  of  an  act 
of  imitation  which  seems  plain  to  the  observer.  Man  is  here 
yet  again  the  child  at  play.  Once  the  student  of  these 
narratives  has  come  to  cultivate  a  feeling  for  personal 
influences,  difficult  as  they  may  be  to  analyse  and  define, 
there  grows  up  a  conviction  on  the  whole  subject  that  is 
deep  and  unshakable." 

Four  clearly  defined  groups  may  thus  be  discerned  in  the 
nineteenth  century:  a  group  of  imitators  of  Franklin  and 
Gibbon;  a  group  of  literary  self-analysers,  religious  and 
introspective  in  tone;  a  scientific  group;  and  a  literary 
artistic  group  formed  about  the  Pre-Raphaelite  movement.1 
In  addition  to  these  groups,  there  exists  a  great  body  of 
self-biographers  who  seem  to  have  written  for  no  other 
reason  than  that  they  were  "  driven  into  a  fashion  of  self- 
explanation  which  belonged  to  the  time."  2 

The  autobiographies  of  Franklin  and  Gibbon — to  which 
may  be  added  that  of  David  Hume — have  been  recognised 
since  their  publication  as  classics.  They  stimulated  many 
others  to  write  similar  records,  most  of  which  follow  the 
prototypes  at  a  great  distance.  Every  one  who  is  in  the 
least  familiar  with  English  literature  knows  of  the  auto 
biographies  of  Franklin,  Gibbon,  and  Hume;  perhaps  it  is 
only  to  the  specialist  that  the  names  of  Thomas  Holcroft, 
William  Hutton,  Richard  Edgeworth,  James  Lackington, 
Samuel  Romilly,  Catherine  Cappe,  Thomas  Bewick,  and 
William  Gifford  are  familiar.  It  would  be  difficult  to  deter 
mine  the  extent  of  direct  stimulation  to  self-delineation 
exerted  by  these  three  works;  it  is,  however,  a  matter  of 
literary  history  that  the  habit  of  autobiography  followed 
immediately  and  extensively  in  their  wake. 

In  the  group  of  literary  self -analysers  we  observe   a 

1  See  Appendix,  pp.  300-2. 

2  The  phrase  occurs  in  Mrs.  Oliphant's  Autobiography,  pp.  4-5, 
and  was  written  in  1885. 


AUTOBIOGRAPHY  IN  19™  CENTURY    203 

remarkable  diversity  of  purpose  and  personality.  The  sad 
wail  of  Egerton  Brydges  fills  two  volumes  of  a  work  inter 
esting  because  it  shows  "  how  a  man  of  real  talent  and  love 
of  literature  may  live  a  long  life  with  a  longing  desire  to  do 
something  great,  and  then  *  die  and  make  no  sign.*  "  J 
John  Gait  tells  his  life  story  because  it  occurred  to  him  that 
his  own  adventures  were  as  singular  as  those  of  the  heroes 
of  many  novels  and  that  it  might  be  as  easy  to  draw  for  the 
materials  of  a  book  on  the  memory  as  upon  the  imagination; 
in  addition  to  which  motive  he  adds,  "  I  had  a  mercenary 
object  in  view,  besides  other  considerations."  William 
Wordsworth  in  The  Prelude,  or  Growth  of  a  Poet's  Mind, 
"  undertook  to  record,  in  verse,  the  origin  and  progress  of 
his  own  powers,  as  far  as  he  was  acquainted  with  them." 
The  Prelude  he  intended  as  merely  introductory  to  The 
Recluse,  the  two  works  "  to  have  the  same  relation  to  each 
other  as  the  ante-chapel  has  to  the  body  of  a  Gothic  church  " ; 
his  minor  pieces,  "  properly  arranged,  were  to  have  such 
connexion  with  the  main  work  as  to  give  them  claim  to  be 
likened  to  the  little  cells,  oratories,  and  sepulchral  recesses, 
ordinarily  included  in  those  edifices."  In  short,  Wordsworth 
deliberately  planned  and  brought  partially  to  completion 
a  vast  autobiographical  temple  in  verse,  and  thus  stands 
unique  among  the  autobiographers  of  the  century.2  Leigh 
Hunt  says  of  his  autobiography  that  "  a  more  involuntary 
production  it  would  be  difficult  to  conceive  " ;  whereas 
Sir  Samuel  Romilly  records  that  he  wrote  "  for  himself, 
himself  alone."  Coleridge  called  the  Biographia  Liter  aria 
"  an  immethodical  miscellany." 

The  scientific  group,  containing  some  great  names — 
Darwin,  Huxley,  Bain,  Mill,  Wallace — all  of  whom  wrote 

1  Samuel  Longfellow,  Life  of  H.  W.  Longfellow,  vol.  i.  p.  331. 

1  Wordsworth  also  wrote  a  brief  prose  autobiographical  sketch 
which  forms  chapter  ii.  of  Christopher  Wordsworth's  Memoirs  of 
William  Wordsworth. 


204  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

their  lives  with"  the  scientific  intention,"  is  best  represented 
by  Herbert  Spencer's  "  natural  history  of  himself,"  of  which 
the  "  two  immense  volumes,  for  thoroughness,  veracity, 
and  scrupulous  exactness,  form  the  culminating  achieve 
ment  of  scientific  self-delineation."  The  literary-artistic 
group  formed  about  the  Pre-Raphaelite  movement,  con 
taining  the  names  of  W.  Holman  Hunt,  W.  M.  Rossetti, 
and  John  Addington  Symonds,  came  to  fullest  expression 
in  the  Praeterita  of  John  Ruskin. 

Mrs.  Burr  has  shown  quite  convincingly  that  the  subjec 
tive  tendency  rises  during  certain  social  and  mental  condi 
tions,  and  falls  during  others;  and  that  this  process  is  the 
same  whatever  the  nation.  Comparison  shows  that  the 
conditions  under  which  the  subjective  tendency  rises  or  falls 
are  similar  conditions.  The  general  law  made  manifest  may 
be  thus  stated:  *Ihe  subjective  autobiography  groups  itself 
about  the  great  intellectual  movements  and  changes  of  the 
world)  and  lessens  or  disappears  in  times  of  material  change. 
In  England,  political  activities  keep  the  percentage  of  self- 
examinations  extremely  low  until  much  later  than  in  other 
countries.  English  literature  shows  cases  of  this  kind  no 
earlier  than  1600.  Of  twenty  important  secular  autobio 
graphies  written  before  1700,  but  six  are  personal.  The  vio 
lent  fluctuations  just  after  the  Restoration,  followed  by  the 
Quaker  and  other  religious  movements,  mark  the  first  high 
point;  the  second  is  not  reached  until  the  nineteenth 
century  when  the  great  scientific  upheaval  shifted  the  whole 
intellectual  point  of  view. 

"  Just  as  the  iron  filings  rise  and  cluster  about  a  magnet," 
concludes  Mrs.  Burr,  "  so  do  men's  individualities  rise  to 
expression  under  the  influence  of  a  current  of  thought. 
The  impulse  is  not  to  be  explained  by  the  general  theory 
that  warlike  periods  of  national  life  are  apt  to  be  followed 
by  an  outburst  of  literary  and  creative  energy.  The  English 


AUTOBIOGRAPHY  IN  19™  CENTURY    205 

and  Italian  tables  [of  autobiography]  both  give  examples 
of  the  rise  in  the  self-study  at  a  time  of  general  literary 
stagnation,  preceding  marked  intellectual  changes.  The 
English  scientific  group  begins  at  the  very  ebb  of  the 
greater  literary  activities  of  the  nineteenth  century.  Find 
the  dawn  of  new  ideas,  find  the  moment  when  men's  minds 
begin  to  submit  to  the  shaking  power  of  an  intellectual 
change,  and  there  you  will  find  the  attempt  at  self-under 
standing  expressed  in  a  group  of  personal  records.  The 
observation  of  great  movements  at  work  in  himself  causes 
a  man  fresh  interest  in  himself:  the  observation  of  a  similar 
movement  at  work  in  others  makes  a  man  wish  to  state  his 
position,  to  define  his  credo.  The  atmosphere  of  doubt, 
restlessness,  insecurity,  caused  by  intellectual  upheavals, 
produces  in  the  serious  mind  a  desire  to  clear  the  ground 
for  himself,  and  to  aid  others — produces,  in  a  word,  the 
autobiographical  intention.  And  so  we  find  these  cases 
following  the  law,  and  grouping  themselves  about  move 
ments  of  intellectual  significance."  l 

Among  the  miscellaneous,  ungrouped  autobiographies 
of  the  century  we  find  the  most  diverse  manifestations  of 
personality.  They  vary  all  the  way  from  the  "  wandering 
memorials  of  my  own  life  and  casual  experiences,"  as 
Thomas  De  Quincey  calls  his  Autobiographic  Sketches,  and 
the  dream-phantasies  of  his  Confessions  of  an  Opium  Eater, 
to  General  Ulysses  S.  Grant's  straightforward  and  soldierly 
Memoirs.  Cardinal  Newman  reveals  himself  in  his  Apologia 
pro  Vita  Sua  ;  his  brother,  Francis  Newman,  in  the  Phases 
of  Faith.  Lord  Broughton  and  Augustus  J.  C.  Hare  are  as 
voluminous  as  Mrs.  Oliphant  and  Philip  Gilbert  Hamerton 
are  brief.  The  kind  of  autobiographical  document  pro 
duced  is  governed  by  the  personality  of  the  writer;  we 
do  not  know  just  what  to  expect  when  we  pick  up  such  a 
x  The  Autobiography,  pp.  186-7. 


206  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

document  for  the  first  time  any  more  than  we  know  what  to 
expect  when  we  are  introduced  for  the  first  time  to  some 
one  whom  we  have  never  before  seen  or  heard  of.  The 
manner  is  the  method — a  part  of  the  man  himself. 

In  all  the  realm  of  English  autobiographical  literature 
there  exists  no  more  poignantly  sad,  pathetic  narrative 
than  the  fragment  left  by  Mrs.  Oliphant.  Of  the  many 
volumes  written  by  this  brave,  overworked  little  woman 
it  is  the  one  which  deserves  to  live  longest.  In  the  most 
unassuming  manner — touched  perhaps  by  a  little  too 
much  of  self-pity — she  tells  the  story  of  a  life  upon  which 
sorrows  crowded  in  swift  succession  and  over  which  hung 
much  of  the  gloom  voiced  in  Greek  poetry;  as  we  read,  a 
fragment  of  the  Greek  anthology  insistently  echoes  through 
our  consciousness : 

"  Alas!   Peristera,  sad  ills  you  bore; 
The  Fates  work  ever  thus, 
And  the  worst  evils  that  they  have  in  store 
Are  never  far  from  us."  x 

Although  her  sketch  closes  with  a  note  of  despair  which 
renders  further  utterance  impossible,  the  whole  is  not  the 
work  of  a  pessimist.  In  spite  of  heaped-up  sorrow,  Mrs. 
Oliphant  never  lost  faith  in  the  eternal  goodness  of  God; 
she  was  one  of  those  who  "  marched  breast  forward,  never 
doubting  clouds  would  break." 

Lord  Broughton's  Recollections  of  a  Long  Life,  and 
Augustus  J.  C.  Hare's  The  Story  of  my  Life,  each  extending 
to  six  volumes,  exhibit  the  extreme  length  to  which  recent 
autobiographies  have  attained.  The  work  of  Mr.  Hare  is 
more  typical ;  that  of  Lord  Broughton,  privately  printed  in 
five  volumes  in  1865,  was  not  given  to  the  public  until 
1909,  when  his  daughter,  Lady  Dorchester,  taking  the  early 

1  J.  A.  Pott's  translation  from  Leonidas,  in  Greek  Love  Songs  and 
Epigrams,  pp.  29-30  (first  series). 


AUTOBIOGRAPHY  IN  i9TH  CENTURY    207 

part  of  the  five  volumes  as  a  basis,  incorporated  therewith 
portions  of  diaries  and  published  works.  Mr.  Hare,  how 
ever,  completed  his  own  design — a  design  thus  described 
by  himself:  "My  story  is  a  very  long  one,  and  though 
only,  as  Sir  C.  Bowen  would  have  called  it,  *  a  ponderous 
biography  of  nobody,'  is  told  in  great — most  people  will 
say  in  far  too  much— detail.  But  to  me  it  seems  as  if  it  were 
in  the  petty  details,  not  in  the  great  results,  that  the  real 
interest  of  every  existence  lies.  I  think,  also,  though  it  may 
be  considered  a  strange  thing  to  say,  that  the  true  picture 
of  a  whole  life — at  least  an  English  life — has  never  yet  been 
painted,  and  certainly  all  the  truth  of  such  a  picture  must 
come  from  its  delicate  touches.  Then,  though  most  readers 
of  this  story  will  only  read  parts  of  it,  they  are  sure  to  be 
different  parts."  l  The  minuteness  and  prolixity  of  Mr. 
Hare's  work  may  well  be  set  over  against  the  condensation 
and  brevity  of  David  Hume's  life  story.  English  literature 
thus  contains  admirable  examples  of  both  the  brief  and  the 
long  autobiography. 

The  tendency  of  autobiography  to  merge  into  fiction 
grew  increasingly  apparent  during  this  century.  We  have 
already  noted  John  Gait's  observation  that  "  it  might  be 
as  easy  to  draw  for  the  materials  of  a  book  on  the  memory 
as  upon  the  imagination  " ;  from  the  point  of  view  of  the 
reader,  he  remarked  that  "  a  man  must  not  forget,  that 
however  important  the  incidents  of  his  life  may  be  to 
himself,  the  general  body  of  readers  will  regard  his  memoirs 
but  as  a  common  book,  and  never  trouble  themselves,  in 
pursuit  of  pastime,  to  ascertain  whether  what  they  read 
consists  of  fact  or  fiction."  2  This  carelessness  on  the  part  of 
readers  as  to  the  distinction  between  fact  and  fiction  may 
or  may  not  be  the  reason  for  the  increasing  fictional  element. 

1  The  Story  of  My  Life,  vol.  i.  Preface. 

1  The  Literary  Life  of  John  Gait,  vol.  i.  p.  338. 


208  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Suffice  it  to  say,  the  tendency  is  present  and  is  recognised. 
"  The  question  of  what  is  actual  autobiography  and  what 
is  so  coloured  as  to  become  practically  fiction,  must  always 
be  a  matter  of  opinion."  l  In  no  autobiographical  docu 
ments  is  the  question  more  apparent  than  in  George 
Sorrow's  Lavengro  and  The  Romany  Rye.  Sorrow's  bio 
graphers  agree  that,  in  the  main,  the  two  works  are  auto 
biographical;  that  it  was  Sorrow's  original  intention  that 
Lavengro  especially  should  be  so.2  The  difficulty  is  where 
to  draw  the  line.  "  '  What  is  autobiography  ?  '  Borrow  once 
asked  Mr.  Theodore  Watts-Dunton  (who  had  called  his 
attention  to  '  several  bold  coincidences  in  Lavengro  ').  'Is 
it  the  mere  record  of  the  incidents  of  a  man's  life  ?  or  is  it  a 
picture  of  the  man  himself — his  character,  his  soul  ?  '  "  3 
The  question  is  not  yet  settled. 

After  all  these  centuries  we  may  well  ask  what  form 
English  autobiography  has  attained.  As  a  general  fact, 
we  may  say  that  it  is,  on  the  whole,  much  more  full  and 
explicit  than  biography,  with  less  of  concealment.  The 
development  of  English  prose  style  has  influenced  it 
appreciably,  though  one  cannot  say  that,  on  the  whole, 
since  the  days  of  Franklin,  Gibbon,  and  Hume,  the  style  of 
autobiography  has  grown  remarkably  better.  Whatever 
gain  there  has  been  in  organic  structure  is  still  blurred  by 
the  fact  that  autobiography  is  fragmentary  and  governed 
by  the  whims  of  the  writer.  On  but  one  point  is  there 

1  Herbert  Jenkins,  The  Life  of  George  Borrow,  p.  396. 

8  See  Jenkins'  Life  of  Borrow  and  William  I.  Knapp's  Life, 
Writings,  and  Correspondence  of  George  Borrow,  passim.  "In  1851 
appeared  the  first  of  two  remarkable  books,  Lavengro  and  The 
Romany  Rye,  in  which  George  Borrow,  if  he  did  not  exactly  create, 
brought  to  perfection  from  some  points  of  view  what  may  be  called 
the  autobiographic  novel." — George  Saintsbury,  The  English  Novel, 
pp.  255-6. 

3  Quoted  by  Herbert  Jenkins  in  Life  of  Borrow,  p.  396,  from 
"  Notes  upon  George  Borrow  "  prefaced  to  an  edition  of  Lavengro 
issued  by  Ward,  Lock  &  Co. 


AUTOBIOGRAPHY  IN  19-™  CENTURY    209 

manifest  agreement  among  autobiographers.  "  I  must  so 
far  follow  the  method  of  autobiographers  as  to  begin  with 
a  few  notices  of  my  birth,"  wrote  Egerton  Brydges.  To 
begin  with  the  pedigree — and  in  many  instances  to  carry  it 
to  inordinate  length — has  become  a  general  autobiographi 
cal  habit.  Add  to  this  habit  the  prominent  element  of 
apology — for  since  the  beginning  these  self-biographers 
have  seemed  to  feel  that  they  are  called  upon  to  justify 
their  work — and  the  points  of  agreement  are  practically 
exhausted.  It  is  scarcely  too  much  to  say  that  every 
autobiographer  is  a  law  unto  himself. 

We  have  but  to  read  autobiographies  to  discover  the 
diversities  of  opinion  existing  among  the  writers  them 
selves  as  to  just  what  material  should  be  included.  They 
vary,  in  theory  and  in  practice,  from  the  statement  ot 
Egerton  Brydges,  that  "  it  is  not  the  business  of  a  self- 
memorialist  merely  to  give  the  characters  of  others,  which 
he  has  had  an  opportunity  of  observing;  to  apply  a  mirror 
to  his  own  heart  is  his  first  business,"  l  to  that  of  Francis 
Jeffrey:  "  Life  has  often  been  compared  to  a  journey;  and 
the  simile  seems  to  hold  better  in  nothing  than  in  the 
identity  of  the  rules  by  which  those  who  write  their  travels, 
and  those  who  write  their  lives,  should  be  governed.  When 
a  man  returns  from  visiting  any  celebrated  region,  we 
expect  to  hear  much  more  of  the  remarkable  things  and 
persons  he  has  seen,  than  of  his  own  personal  transactions; 
and  are  naturally  disappointed  if,  after  saying  that  he  lived 
much  with  illustrious  statesmen  or  heroes,  he  chooses 
rather  to  tell  us  of  his  own  travelling  equipage,  or  of  his 
cookery  and  servants,  than  to  give  us  any  account  of  the 
character  and  conversation  of  those  distinguished  persons. 

1  Autobiography,  vol.  i.  p.  277.  In  vol.  ii.  p.  231,  Mr.  Brydges  also 
remarks  that  "  if  inward  workings  are  not  frankly  disclosed,  nothing 
is  done." 


2io  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

In  the  same  manner,  when,  at  the  close  of  a  long  life  spent 
in  circles  of  literary  and  political  celebrity,  an  author  sits 
down  to  give  the  world  an  account  of  his  retrospections,  it 
is  reasonable  to  stipulate  that  he  shall  talk  less  of  himself 
than  of  his  associates."  1 

Practically  all  autobiographers  agree  that  truth  should 
be  striven  for.  "  A  memoir-writer  may  delude  himself, 
but  he  must  not  falsify.  If  he  does  delude,  the  delusion 
forms  part  of  his  character;  and  he  must  take  the  conse 
quence."  2  Herbert  Spencer,  however,  is  of  the  conviction 
that  such  truth  can  be  only  approximated :  "  At  first  sight 
it  seems  possible  for  one  who  narrates  his  own  life  and 
draws  his  own  portrait  to  be  quite  truthful;  but  it  proves 
to  be  impossible.  There  are  various  media  which  distort 
the  things  seen  through  them,  and  an  autobiography  is  a 
medium  which  produces  some  irremediable  distortions."  3 

There  is  a  consensus  of  opinion,  on  the  other  hand,  that 
it  is  impossible  for  an  autobiographer  to  conceal  the  manner 
of  man  that  he  is.  "  It  has  frequently  been  said  that  an 
autobiography  must  of  necessity  be  an  untrue  representa 
tion  of  its  subject,  as  no  man  can  judge  himself  correctly. 
If  it  is  intended  to  imply  that  somebody  else,  having  a 
much  slighter  acquaintance  with  the  man  whose  life  is  to  be 
narrated,  would  produce  a  more  truthful  book,  one  may  be 
permitted  to  doubt  the  validity  of  the  inference.  Thousands 
of  facts  are  known  to  a  man  himself  with  reference  to  his 
career,  and  a  multitude  of  determinant  motives,  which  are 
not  known  even  to  his  most  intimate  friends,  still  less  to 
the  stranger  who  so  often  undertakes  the  biography.  The 
reader  of  an  autobiography  has  this  additional  advantage, 
that  the  writer  must  be  unconsciously  revealing  himself 

1  Edinburgh  Review,  April  1806;    Contributions  to  the  Edinburgh 
Review,  vol.  iv.  pp.  403-4,  review  of  Memoirs  of  Richard  Cumberland. 
*  Egerton  Brydges,  Autobiography,  vol.  ii.  p.  121. 
8  Autobiography,  vol.  ii.  p.  28. 


AUTOBIOGRAPHY  IN  19™  CENTURY    211 

all  along,  merely  by  his  way  of  telling  things."  l  Leslie 
Stephen  voiced  the  same  sentiment:  "  It  may  be  reckoned 
...  as  a  special  felicity  that  an  autobiography,  alone  of 
all  books,  may  be  more  valuable  in  proportion  to  the 
amount  of  misrepresentation  which  it  contains.  We  do  not 
wonder  when  a  man  gives  a  false  character  to  his  neighbour, 
but  it  is  always  curious  to  see  how  a  man  continues  to 
present  a  false  testimonial  to  himself.  It  is  pleasant  to  be 
admitted  behind  the  scenes  and  to  trace  the  growth  of  that 
singular  phantom,  which,  like  the  Spectre  of  the  Brocken, 
is  the  man's  own  shadow  cast  upon  the  coloured  and 
distorted  mists  of  memory."  2 

An  examination  of  English  autobiography  discloses  the 
fact — so  far,  at  least,  as  a  reader  may  judge — that  the 
writers  of  their  own  lives  have  been  unusually  frank  and 
full  in  their  self-revelations.  "  It  may  be  said,"  remarks 
Egerton  Brydges,  "  that  almost  all  men  wish  to  appear  to 
the  whole  world  in  a  character  which  does  not  belong  to 
them,  and  that  by  their  own  pens  they  will  most  probably 
portray  themselves  in  that  character.  Experience  proves 
that  this  has  not  been  the  case  with  autobiographers ;  and 
that  many  things  have  been  thus  known  and  admitted  to 
be  true,  which  would  otherwise  have  died  with  the  writers."3 
Perhaps  this  truthfulness  has  had  something  to  do  with 
the  fact  that  most  autobiographies  have  been  posthumously 
published;  the  authors  have  no  doubt  shrunk  from  facing 
the  truth  in  cold  print,  in  their  own  lifetime.  "  Many," 
says  Mr.  Brydges,  "  have  written  an  autobiography;  but 
few  have  had  the  courage  to  let  them  appear  during  their 
own  lives."  4 

All  in  all,  the  nineteenth  century  brought  forth  a  notable 

1  P.  G.  Hamerton,  Autobiography,  pp.  i-2. 
1  Hours  in  a  Library,  vol.  iii.  p.  237. 
*  Autobiography,  vol.  ii.  p.  211. 
4  Ibid.  414. 


212  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

body  of  autobiography.  All  classes  of  English-speaking 
people,  from  the  highest  to  the  lowest,  have  written  their 
stories  "  with  their  own  hands."  He  who  would  understand 
the  genius  of  this  people  in  its  varied  manifestations  need 
only  turn  to  this  branch  of  English  literature.  He  will 
meet  a  large  and  strangely  assorted  company,  and  may 
leave  it  with  the  bewildered  impression  that  one  so  often 
feels  in  leaving  such  assemblies.  Whether  or  not  he  carries 
away  from  this  company  of  autobiographers  any  impression 
of  definite,  unified  groups — and  it  is  very  probable  that  he 
will — he  will  at  least  bear  with  him  the  feeling  that  he  has 
met  the  English-speaking  world  in  little,  that  in  the  micro 
cosm  he  has  come  to  know  the  macrocosm. 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       213 
CHAPTER  IX 

PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES  OF  THE  PRESENT 

ALONG  with  its  rich  contribution,  the  past  has  bequeathed 
many  problems.  Some  of  these  are  persistent,  and  seem  to 
defy  positive  solution.  After  centuries  of  experimentation, 
there  emerges,  for  instance,  no  best  order  of  arrangement. 
What  Isaac  Watts  wrote  in  1725  in  regard  to  methods  of 
procedure  employed  by  biographers  applies  as  truly  to-day 
as  when  it  was  first  written:  "  So  in  writing  the  Lives  of 
men,  which  is  called  biography,"  the  words  are  from  the 
Logic*  "  some  authors  follow  the  track  of  their  years  and 
place  everything  in  the  precise  order  of  time  when  it 
occurred;  others  throw  the  temper  and  character  of  the 
persons,  their  private  life,  their  public  stations,  their 
personal  occurrences,  their  domestic  conduct,  their  speeches, 
their  books  or  writings,  their  sickness  and  death,  into  so 
many  distinct  chapters."  By  some  writers  of  the  eighteenth 
century  the  problems  were  passed  over  lightly.  "  The 
biographer  and  historian,"  we  are  quoting  from  the  Rev. 
Samuel  Burdy,  "  have  materials  provided  for  them;  their 
business  then  is  only  to  arrange  with  skill  and  express  with 
perspicuity."  2  The  "  only  "  so  easily  and  casually  inserted 
by  Mr.  Burdy  does  not  lessen  the  difficulties;  biographers 
still  find  that  efforts  to  arrange  with  skill  and  to  execute 
with  perspicuity  require  all  the  power  and  ability  that  can 
be  summoned. 

Apart  from  these  technical  problems,  perhaps  the  greatest 
is  to  differentiate  history  from  biography.     This  is  a  very 

'Pp.  516-7. 

1  Life  of  Philip  Skelton  (1792),  p.  71,  of  the  Oxford  University 
Press  edition,  in  which  the  work  is  now  easily  accessible. 


214  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

old  problem,  arising  out  of  the  fact  that  biography  was 
for  so  long  considered  merely  a  branch  of  history. 
From  the  days  of  George  Cavendish,  most  biographers 
have  had  occasion  to  refer  to  their  difficulties  in  dealing 
with  this  problem.  "  Many  writers  have  divided  the 
reign  of  a  prince  from  his  life,  and  so  have  given  the 
actions  without  the  man  ;  the  political  occurrences  without 
the  genius  that  gave  a  rise  and  a  turn  to  them."  In  these 
words  the  line  of  demarcation  is  clearly  drawn;  the  danger 
of  failure  resulting  from  such  division  is  as  clearly  suggested. 
A  solution  seems  necessary,  and  to  the  writer  in  question 
the  solution  lay  along  the  path  of  compromise:  "  It  shall  be 
the  present  design  to  write  the  life  as  well  as  the  reign  of 
this  unfortunate  prince  [Charles  I.],  and  give  all  the  true 
characters  of  his  person  along  with  a  relation  of  all  the 
affairs  of  his  government."  *  Attempts  to  arrive  at  a  better 
or  a  different  solution  have  been  many. 

The  theoretical  elements  of  the  problem  have  been  well 
stated  by  the  Rev.  Edward  Edwards.  Mr.  Edwards  was 
not  alone  a  theorist,  however;  in  his  Life  of  Sir  Walter 
Raleigh  he  was  face  to  face  with  the  difficulties  which  he 
sets  forth.2  He  was,  in  addition,  a  careful  and  enthusiastic 
student  of  biography  in  general.  We  quote  his  statements 
at  length : 

"  Part  of  the  enduring  charm  of  biographical  literature  seems  to  be 
close  akin  to  the  charms  of  dramatic  art.  And  that  resemblance 
might,  perhaps,  be  made  the  basis  of  a  somewhat  more  sharply 

1  Rennet's  History  of  England,  Anonymous  Life  and  Reign  of 
Charles  I. 

*  Students  of  biography  will  be  interested  in  this  Life  of  Raleigh. 
In  it,  Mr.  Edwards  made  the  attempt  to  refrain  from  the  delineation 
of  "  great  national  transactions  .  .  .  even  by  way  of  giving  an 
historical  background  to  his  own  humble  theme."  He  also  printed 
Raleigh's  letters  in  a  volume  separate  from  the  Life.  Thus,  remarks 
the  author,  "  readers  will  find  in  it  a  two-fold  departure  from 
methods  which,  of  late  years,  have  become  very  common  in  English 
biography."  The  work  was  published  in  1868, 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       215 

defined  distinction  between  the  proper  province  of  '  biography '  and 
that  of  '  history,'  than  is  given  in  the  current  definitions.  It  has 
been  said  that '  biography  '  is  the  life  of  a  man ;  '  history  '  the  life 
of  a  nation.  There  is  truth,  as  well  as  point,  in  the  saying.  But 
plainly,  the  definition  does  not  carry  all  the  truth.  A  good  biography 
has  a  dramatic  interest  (though  not  a  dramatic  completeness)  about 
it,  to  which  the  best  history  of  a  nation  can  never  attain.  In  the 
well-told  story  of  any  energetic  and  individual  life  there  is  always  an 
undercurrent  of  tragedy,  so  to  speak.  We  cannot  feel  for  the  fortunes 
of  a  crowd  of  men,  as  we  feel  for  the  fortunes  of  one  particular  man. 
Very  few,  perhaps,  of  those  that  read  attentively  the  story  of  a 
really  memorable  life,  are  insensible  to  the  temptation,  as  they  reach 
the  closing  pages,  of  turning  back  again  to  the  opening  pages. 
Whether  or  not  the  writer  may  have  tried  to  '  sum  up '  the  life  he 
has  been  narrating,  most  thoughtful  readers  feel  constrained  to 
make  a  summary  and  an  estimate  of  their  own.  They  are  led  to 
compare  the  early  promise  with  the  late  performance;  the  long 
toils  of  the  seed-time  with  the  hurried  joys  of  harvest.  They  strive 
to  realise,  within  their  own  minds,  some  of  those  many  personal 
retrospections  which  they  are  sure  must  have  given  colour — bright 
or  sombre — to  the  last  days,  and  to  the  latest  thoughts,  of  the  man 
they  have  been  reading  about.  Such  readers  get  to  feel,  as  with  the 
vividness  of  personal  experience,  that  the  most  successful  and  best- 
rounded  life  is  always  incomplete,  and  almost  always,  in  a  measure, 
tragic.  They  see  that  the  man  who  has  been,  in  appearance,  most 
thoroughly  enabled  by  an  Almighty  Overruler,  to  do  with  his  life 
what,  in  his  youthful  and  best  moments,  he  planned  to  do  with  it, 
has  yet  fallen  far  short  of  his  aspirations;  and  that  his  life  is  frag 
mentary.  They  ask  themselves,  '  Is  this,  in  truth,  the  end  ?  ' — '  Is  it 
not,  rather,  a  beginning  ?  '  Such  questions  as  these  do  not  so  readily 
arise  in  our  minds  as  we  read  of  the  revolutions  of  empires,  or  the 
vicissitudes  of  nations.  .  .  . 

"  We  commonly  speak,  indeed,  of  the  '  national  mind  ' — the 
'  national  responsibilities  ' — the '  national  life.'  And  there  is  neither 
vagueness  nor  strain  in  such  language.  A  people  has  continuity  of 
spirit  beneath  change  of  form,  not  less  truly — though  diversely — 
than  has  a  nation.  The  historian  who  fails  to  bring  out  the  collective 
life  of  a  nation,  as  well  as  its  outward  story,  misses  his  function  as 
certainly  as  does  the  biographer  who  tells  the  sayings  and  doings  of 
his  subject  from  cradle  to  grave,  but  tells  them  in  a  way  that  throws  V/ 
no  ray  of  light  on  the  growth  of  his  intellect,  or  the  life  of  his  soul. 
With  spiritual  life  (in  the  truest  sense  of  the  term)  the  historian  is 
not  concerned.  The  collective  life  of  a  nation  has  its  boundaries  and 


216  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

its  term.  That  national  life  has  very  far-reaching  issues.  But  they 
are  all  finite.  .  .  . 

"  When  one  man  has  for  a  time  almost  embodied  the  collective  life 
of  a  nation,  how  ought  the  mere  biographer  to  deal — or  attempt  to 
deal — with  the  individual  and  personal  career  of  the  man  as  dis 
tinguished  from  the  career  of  the  monarch  or  temporary  leader  of  a 
people  ?  Does  such  a  man  belong  to  biography  at  all  ?  .  .  . 

"  In  the  most  ordinary  lives — if  they  be  worth  telling  at  all — the 
biographer  has  a  two-columned  story  to  tell,  or  to  interweave.  There 
is  the  column  of  outward  incidents,  and  also  the  column  of  that 
intellectual  and  spiritual  growth  which  is  being  continually  evolved 
beneath  them.  Must  the  biographer  in  these  exceptional  cases  [such 
as  those  of  Napoleon  and  Frederick  the  Great]  attempt  to  fill  three 
columns  in  parallel  fulness — the  third  of  them  being  hardly  less  than 
the  story  of  a  nation?  The  biographer  who  should  attempt  that 
would  as  surely  destroy  the  proper  unity  of  his  work  as  such  an  unity 
has  been,  many  times,  destroyed  by  some  painters  of  battle-pieces. 
The  too-ambitious  artist  has  occasionally  striven  to  depict  a  battle 
by  exhibiting  upon  his  canvas  the  muster-rolls  of  two  armies.  The 
result  has  been  a  vast  crowd  of  figures  which  only  depict '  a  battle  ' 
in  the  unfortunate  sense  that  they  are  mutually  destructive.  The 
prudent  biographer  will,  perhaps,  be  inclined  to  solve  the  difficulty 
by  handing  over  much  of  his  second  column,  and  nearly  all  of  the 
third,  to  the  historian — whenever  he  has  to  deal  with  the  Napoleons 
and  the  Fredericks.  To  chronicle  the  doings  of  men  of  that  class  is 
the  historian's  province.  To  make  some  roughly  effective  summary 
of  these  doings,  in  the  way  of  epitome  or  extract,  will  be  all  that  can 
fairly  come  within  the  province  of  biography.  The  real  biographer 
cannot,  indeed,  conceive  of  a  Napoleon  whose  inmost  mental  and 
spiritual  history  has  not  been  shaped  by  that  wonderful  life-itinerary 
which  began  at  Ajaccio  to  end  at  Longwood.  He  cannot  sever,  even 
in  thought,  the  plastic  working  of  the  studious  days  at  Auxonne,  or 
of  the  conversations  at  Beaucaire,  from  that  of  the  exultant  moments 
of  Austerlitz,  or  the  bitter  hours  of  Waterloo.  But  he  will  not,  on 
that  account,  incur  the  danger  of  becoming  a  mere  annalist  in  a 
vain  attempt  to  unite  two  several  functions,  each  of  which  is  arduous 
enough  to  put  a  strain  on  mental  power  at  its  best."  l 

1  In  A  Handbook  to  the  Literature  of  General  Biography,  pp.  1 3-22. 
This  work,  by  the  Rev.  Edward  Edwards  in  collaboration  with  the 
Rev.  Charles  Hole,  was  projected  in  eight  parts,  of  which  only  the 
first,  "  General  Biography  extending  over  all  Ages,"  was  printed, 
in  pamphlet  form,  at  Ventnor,  Isle  of  Wight,  1885.  The  edition 
consisted  of  only  250  copies.  The  most  interesting  and  illuminative 
paragraphs  are  reprinted  in  the  present  work. 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       217 

In  the  light  of  the  quotations  just  given  it  is  well  to 
consider  the  actual  practice  of  a  number  of  biographers 
who  have  found  themselves  confronted  by  this  problem 
in  its  strongest  aspects.  Few  modern  biographers  have 
shirked  the  difficulty;  most  have  attempted  a  solution. 
"  To  enter  the  domain  of  history  by  the  pathway  of  bio 
graphy,"  observes  Sir  Henry  Craik,  "  is  a  task  beset  with 
peculiar  doubts  and  difficulties.  How  far  is  it  permissible 
to  stray  from  the  narrow  pathway  we  have  chosen,  and 
expatiate  upon  aspects  of  the  time,  which  do  not  fall  within 
the  personal  experience  of  him  whose  life  we  attempt  to 
portray  ?  If  we  restrict  ourselves  too  much,  we  move  blind 
folded  along  an  obscure  track;  if  we  range  too  freely,  we 
lose  the  identity  of  the  single  stream  we  seek  to  follow 
amidst  a  multitude  of  devious  channels.  In  writing  a 
biography — above  all,  in  writing  the  biography  of  one 
who  has  played  a  large  part  in  the  leading  transactions  of 
his  time — we  must  build  up  for  ourselves  a  structure  of 
general  history;  and  having  done  so,  we  must  then  knock 
ruthlessly  away,  like  temporary  scaffolding,  all  that  is  not 
essential  to  the  personal  figure  which  we  attempt  to 
present.  ...  I  am  aware  that,  by  some,  the  biographical 
aspects  of  history  may  be  esteemed  as  but  a  subsidiary 
matter,  falling  beneath  the  dignity  of  its  more  severe 
domain,  and  of  its  larger  theories,  and  foreign  to  what,  in 
modern  jargon,  is  called  the  science  of  history.  But  in  the 
general,  and  not  unsound,  judgment  of  mankind,  these 
aspects  can  never  lose  their  permanent  interest."  * 

"  In  what  we  are  to  say,"  writes  Walter  Sichel  at  the 
beginning  of  his  Bolingbroke  and  bis  Times,  "  we  shall  try 
to  avoid  the  error  which  mistakes  a  sequence  of  dates  for 
an  intelligence  of  energies — the  style  which  is  a  mere 
nuntia  vftustatis,  as  well  as  that  second-hand  repetition  of 
1  The  Life  of  Edward  Earl  of  Clarendon,  Preface. 


2i 8  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

prejudice  which,  in  Bolingbroke's  own  words,  '  converts 
history  into  authorised  romance.'  Character  even  more 
than  achievement  will  be  our  study.  To  interpret  events  by 
character  and  not  character  by  events,  is  the  true  historical 
method.  For,  indeed,  the  peruser  of  chronicles  is  too  often 
reminded  of  an  auction  in  some  ancient  manor.  The  garni 
ture  is  dispersed  in  order  and  catalogued  for  sale.  The 
inventories  are  tritely  truthful  and  superficially  solid.  But 
the  mainspring  of  memories,  the  intimacies  of  association 
are  wanting;  the  ghosts  that  haunt  the  whispering  corridors 
are  invisible  and  neglected.  It  is  a  sale  of  dead  lumber."  1 
To  no  one,  perhaps,  was  the  problem  presented  in  more 
serious  form  than  to  John  Morley.  "  Every  reader  will 
perceive,"  such  are  Mr.  Morley's  words,  "  that  perhaps  the 
sharpest  of  all  the  many  difficulties  of  my  task  has  been 
to  draw  the  line  between  history  and  biography — between 
the  fortunes  of  the  community  and  the  exploits,  thoughts, 
and  purposes  of  the  individual  who  had  so  marked  a  share 
in  them.  In  the  case  of  men  of  letters,  in  whose  lives  our 
literature  is  admirably  rich,  this  difficulty  happily  for 
their  authors  and  for  our  delight  does  not  arise.  But  where 
the  subject  is  a  man  who  was  four  times  at  the  head  of  the 
government — no  phantom,  but  dictator — and  who  held  this 
office  of  first  minister  for  a  longer  time  than  any  other 
statesman  in  the  reign  of  the  Queen,  how  can  we  tell  the 
story  of  his  works  and  days  without  reference,  and  ample 
reference,  to  the  course  of  events  over  whose  unrolling  he 
presided,  and  out  of  which  he  made  history  ?  .  .  .  Assuredly 
I  am  not  presumptuous  enough  to  suppose  that  this  diffi 
culty  of  fixing  the  precise  scale  between  history  and  bio 
graphy  has  been  successfully  overcome  by  me.  It  may  be 
that  Hercules  himself  would  have  succeeded  little  better."  2 

1  Vol.  i.  p.  10. 

a  The  Life  of  William  Ewart  Gladstone,  vol.  i.  pp.  1-2. 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       219 

"  For  a  thing  so  commonly  attempted,"  the  words  are 
from  the  Preface  of  Winston  Spencer  Churchill's  Lord 
Randolph  Churchill,  "  political  biography  is  difficult.  The 
style  and  ideas  of  the  writer  must  throughout  be  subor 
dinated  to  the  necessity  of  embracing  in  the  text  those 
documentary  proofs  upon  which  the  story  depends.  Letters, 
memoranda,  and  extracts  from  speeches,  which  inevitably 
and  rightly  interrupt  the  sequence  of  his  narrative,  must 
be  pieced  together  upon  some  consistent  and  harmonious 
plan.  It  is  not  by  the  soft  touches  of  a  picture,  but  in 
hard  mosaic  or  tessellated  pavement,  that  a  man's  life 
and  fortunes  must  be  presented  in  all  their  reality  and 
romance.  I  have  thought  it  my  duty,  so  far  as  possible,  to 
assemble  once  and  for  all  the  whole  body  of  historical 
evidence  required  for  the  understanding  of  Lord  Randolph 
Churchill's  career." 

Arthur  Christopher  Benson  had  before  him  a  difficult 
problem  in  ecclesiastical  history  in  writing  the  life  of  his 
father,  Edward  White  Benson,  Archbishop  of  Canterbury. 
"  There  appeared  no  choice,"  says  Mr.  Benson  in  the 
Preface,  "  between  slowly  and  gradually  evolving  an 
elaborate  work,  which  should  be  a  minute  contribution  to 
the  ecclesiastical  history  of  the  time — and  for  that  my 
professional  life  as  well  as  my  own  capacity  afforded  me 
little  opportunity — and  sketching  in  broad  outlines  and 
rapid  strokes,  with  as  much  living  detail  as  possible,  a 
biographical  portrait.  ...  It  seemed  better  to  attempt 
to  draw  as  careful  a  picture  of  my  father's  life  and  character 
as  possible,  and  to  touch  on  events  through  the  medium 
of  personality  rather  than  reveal  personality  through 
events.  .  .  ." 

In  concluding  a  discussion  of  this  problem  we  may  bear 
in  mind  the  opinions  of  two  modern  writers  qualified  to 
speak  as  well  by  study  of  the  subject  as  by  actual  practice 


220  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

in  writing  biography.  "  Broad  views,"  in  the  opinion  of 
Edmund  Gosse,  "  are  entirely  out  of  place  in  biography, 
and  there  is  no  greater  literary  mistake  than  to  attempt 
what  is  called  the  '  Life  and  Times  '  of  a  man.  .  .  .  History 
deals  with  fragments  of  the  vast  roll  of  events;  it  must 
always  begin  abruptly  and  close  in  the  middle  of  affairs; 
it  must  always  deal,  impartially,  with  a  vast  number  of 
persons.  Biography  is  a  study  sharply  defined  by  two 
definite  events,  birth  and  death.  It  fills  its  canvas  with  one 
figure,  and  other  characters,  however  great  in  themselves, 
must  always  be  subsidiary  to  the  central  hero."  l  Leslie 
Stephen  offers  a  solution:  "  The  provinces  of  the  historian 
and  the  biographer  are  curiously  distinct,  although  they  are 
closely  related.  History  is  of  course  related  to  biography 
inasmuch  as  most  events  are  connected  with  some  particu 
lar  person.  .  .  .  And,  on  the  other  hand,  every  individual 
life  is  to  some  extent  an  indication  of  the  historical  condi 
tions  of  the  time.  .  .  .  And  yet,  the  curious  thing  is  the 
degree  in  which  this  fact  can  be  ignored  on  both  sides.  If 
we  look  at  any  of  the  ordinary  collections  of  biographical 
material,  we  shall  constantly  be  struck  by  the  writer's 
unconsciousness  of  the  most  obvious  inferences.  .  .  .  Thus, 
I  have  sometimes  noticed  that  a  man  may  be  in  one  sense  a 
most  accomplished  biographer;  that  is,  he  can  tell  you  off 
hand  a  vast  number  of  facts,  genealogical,  official,  and  so 
forth,  and  yet  has  never,  as  we  say,  put  two  and  two  together. 
I  have  read  lives  giving  minute  details  about  the  careers  of 
authors,  which  yet  prove  unmistakably  that  the  writers 
had  no  general  knowledge  of  the  literature  of  the  period. 
A  man  will  know  every  fact  about  all  the  people  mentioned, 
say,  in  Boswell,  and  yet  have  no  conception  of  the  general 
position  of  Johnson,  or  Burke,  or  Goldsmith  in  English 
literature.  .  .  .  Now  the  first  office  of  the  biographer  is  to 
1  Encyclopedia  Bntannica,  article  "  Biography.' 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       221 

facilitate  what  I  may  call  the  proper  reaction  between 
biography  and  history;  to  make  each  study  throw  all 
possible  light  on  the  other;  and  so  to  give  fresh  vitality 
to  two  different  lines  of  study,  which,  though  their  mutual 
dependence  is  obvious,  can  yet  be  divorced  so  effectually 
by  the  mere  Dryasdust."  l  The  problem,  however,  yet 
remains;  in  the  practical  solution  of  it,  biographers  of  the 
present  and  the  future  will  find  full  scope  for  their  energies, 
and  the  manner  of  its  solution  will  no  doubt  constitute  the 
chief  contribution  yet  to  be  made  to  the  development  of 
biography. 

It  would  seem  that  biographers,  in  the  toils  of  such 
material  as  they  are  frequently  called  upon  to  struggle 
with,  are  not  free  to  work  as  they  choose.  We  witness 
their  painful  endeavours;  we  listen  to  their  complaints; 
we  accept  their  apologies.  In  the  face  of  such  struggles, 
such  complaints,  such  apologies,  we  come  to  feel  that  there 
must  be  such  a  thing  as  pure  biography,  and  that  it  is  for 
the  attainment  of  this  that  every  true  biographer  is  panting. 
Trevelyan  telling  us  that  in  the  Life  ofMacaulay  he  touches 
politics  only  "  in  order  to  show  to  what  extent  Macaulay 
was  a  politician,  and  for  how  long,"  or  avoiding  criticism 
of  Macaulay's  literary  labours  in  the  expressed  belief  that 
"  it  is  not  the  province  of  biography  to  dilate  upon  works 
which  are  already  before  the  world " ;  Morley  openly 
passing  over  "  the  detailed  history  of  Mr.  Gladstone  as 
theologian  and  churchman  " ;  Edmund  Gosse  discussing 
the  scientific  labours  of  his  father,  Philip  Henry  Gosse, 
only  in  so  far  as  they  throw  light  upon  the  personality  of 
the  man;  Benson  explaining  that  he  will  not  attempt  to 
write  the  full  story  of  his  father's  ecclesiastical  career; 
Robert  S.  Rait  affirming,  "  If  I  have  written  a  defence  of 
the  General  whose  life  I  have  attempted  to  tell,  it  is 
1  Studies  of  a  Biographer,  vol.  i.  pp.  12-15. 


222  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

because  my  materials  made  such  a  defence  the  only 
possible  form  that  a  biography  of  Lord  Gough  could  take  " 
— in  these  typical  examples  we  have  ample  testimony  to 
the  feeling  of  limitation — the  hampering  influence  of  a 
difficulty  hard  to  surmount.  All  would  evidently  like  to 
avoid  the  problems  involved  and  write  only  of  the  man. 
Perhaps  to  do  so  is  not  entirely  possible.  In  the  case  of 
literary  men  there  would  seem  to  be  most  possibility  of 
attaining  to  pure  biography. 

The  problem  of  dealing  with  genealogical  details  con 
fronts  the  biographer  of  the  present.  Since  the  publication 
of  Oldys'  Life  of  Raleigh,  there  has  been  a  growing  tendency 
to  go  into  ancestral  details,  a  tendency  that  has  been 
greatly  strengthened  by  the  elaborate  research  methods 
so  characteristic  of  the  nineteenth  and  twentieth  centuries. 
There  is  arising  in  the  minds  of  many  the  question  whether 
such  long  and  detailed  treatment  of  genealogy  is  necessary 
for  biography.  Boswell  gets  along  very  well  without  intro 
ducing  much  of  ancestral  record  in  the  Life  of  Johnson  ;  it 
is  a  question  whether  Lockhart's  Life  of  Scott  is  the  better 
for  the  length  of  such  record.  "  The  interest  in  our  ances 
tors,"  comments  Andrew  Lang,  "  '  without  whose  life  we 
had  not  been,'  may  be  regarded  as  a  foible,  and  was  made 
matter  of  reproach,  both  to  Scott  and  his  biographer.  .  .  . 
Scott  was  anxious  to  realise  his  own  ancestry  to  his  imagina 
tion;  .  .  .  whatever  he  had  in  himseK  he  would  fain  have 
made  out  a  hereditary  claim  for.  In  this  taste  there  is  not 
wanting  a  domestic  piety;  and  science,  since  Sir  Walter's 
day,  has  approved  of  his  theory,  that  the  past  of  our  race 
revives  in  each  of  us."  l  We  must  take  into  consideration, 
also,  the  statement  of  Carlyle  that  "  the  history  of  a  man's 
childhood  is  the  description  of  his  parents  and  environ 
ment."  2  In  the  face  of  all  this,  however,  there  is  evidence 

1  Life  and  Letters  of  Lockhart,  vol.  i.  pp.  1-2.       *  Life  of  Sterling. 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       223 

that  many  will  follow  Froude's  biographer:  "  In  reading 
biographies,"  admits  Mr.  Paul,  "  I  always  skip  the  genea 
logical  details.  To  be  born  obscure  and  to  die  famous  has 
been  described  as  the  acme  of  human  felicity.  However 
that  may  be,  whether  fame  has  anything  to  do  with  happi 
ness  or  no,  it  is  a  man  himself,  and  not  his  ancestors,  whose 
life  deserves,  if  it  does  deserve,  to  be  written.  Such  was 
Froude's  own  opinion,  and  it  is  the  opinion  of  most  sensible 
people."  l  From  the  point  of  view  of  science,  the  details  of 
a  man's  ancestry  may  be  highly  valuable,  and  for  such 
purpose  may  be  duly  set  forth  in  a  scientific  work.  On  the 
other  hand,  there  is  not  much  doubt  that  hereafter  the 
canon  of  unity  will  rule  out  of  biography  proper  the  most 
of  genealogical  detail.  We  may  look,  in  the  future,  to  see 
all  save  the  strictly  relevant  genealogical  details  relegated 
to  an  appendix. 

Ever  since  the  value  of  correspondence  became  evident 
to  biographers,  letters  have  been  made  use  of  freely.  The 
problem  of  the  proper  method  of  adapting  correspondence 
to  the  uses  of  biography  yet  confronts  writers ;  it  has  been 
given  careful  consideration,  and  there  is  a  growing  convic 
tion  that  instead  of  lessening  the  difficulties  of  a  biographer, 
a  vast  quantity  of  correspondence  only  increases  them : 

**  To  correspondence,  biography  is  so  much  indebted  that  its 
subtraction  would  devastate  that  section  of  our  libraries.  Many  a 
huge  and  precious  volume  would  shrivel  into  the  mere  husk  of  what 
it  was,  if  deprived  of  the  letters  which  gave  it  both  substance  and 
vitality.  But  none  the  less  is  it  true  that  the  best  letters  that  were 
ever  written  in  fullest  series,  are  a  wretched  substitute  for  a  real 
biography.  A  correspondence  worth  preserving  should  be  preserved 
apart.  What  the  true  biographer  has  to  do  with  it  is  to  use  it.  The 
more  he  can  extract  of  its  purport;  the  more  he  can  absorb  of  its 
spirit;  the  better  will  be  his  book.  The  more  he  thrusts  it  in  bodily 
— how  admirable  so  ever  in  itself — the  more  will  his  book  be  a  thing 
of  shreds  and  patches.  To  depict  worthily  and  enduringly  any 

1  Life  of  Froude,  p.  i. 


224  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

human  life  really  deserving  to  be  depicted,  is  a  task  which  was  never 
yet  achieved  without  a  strain  on  all  the  faculty  the  writer  could 
upgather  for  the  occasion.  That  fact  should  suffice,  one  imagines, 
to  convince  a  man  that  letter-copying  can  go  but  a  little  way.  Any 
penman  can  transcribe  letters — or  without  even  inking  his  fingers 
— can  put  them  together,  scissors-and-paste  fashion,  much  quicker 
than  any  printer  can  put  them  into  type."  l 

William  Winter  remarks  that  "  the  unjustifiable  use  of 
private  letters,  as  an  element  in  the  biography  of  deceased 
persons,  has  been  severely  and  rightly  condemned."  He 
then  tells  us  that  "  a  judicious  and  correct  use  of  such 
documents,  however,  can  neither  do  injustice  to  the  dead 
nor  give  offence  to  the  living."  2  He  thus  leaves  the  prob 
lem  where  he  found  it.  Every  biographer  must,  in  the  end, 
arrive  at  his  own  solution  of  just  what  constitutes  "  a 
judicious  and  correct  use  "  of  private  letters. 

The  problem  of  length  is  one  which  biographers  of  the 
present  and  the  future  must  face  unflinchingly.  It  is  not  a 
new  problem:  it  has  been  before  the  public  since  the  days 
of  Boswell's  Johnson  and  Lockhart's  Scott.  It  is,  however, 
more  vital  than  ever  before:  in  this  day  of  details,  when 
every  possible  scrap  of  information  in  regard  to  a  man's 
life  is  fondly  treasured,  when  significant  are  in  danger  of 
being  buried  beneath  insignificant  facts,  we  may  well  take 
pause.  "  Most  modern  biographies  are  too  large,"  the 
words  are  those  of  the  Rev.  Thomas  Davidson — "  they  err 
by  not  selecting  merely  the  significant."  3  In  this  connexion 
we  may  well  bear  in  mind,  also,  another  of  Mr.  Davidson's 
thoughtful  statements:  "  If,  as  has  been  said,  every  man's 
life  is  worth  telling  for  something  that  there  was  in  it  of 
unique  interest,  it  may  be  equally  true  that  all  the  life  save 
this  particular  part  was  not  worth  telling  at  all,  and  had 

1  Edwards  and  Hole,  A   Handbook  to  the  Literature  of  General 
Biography,  pp.  24-5. 
9  Old  Friends,  p.  206. 
3  Chambers'*  Encyclopedia,  article  "  Biography." 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       225 

better  been  left  untold."  l  Leslie  Stephen  deprecated  the 
increasing  length  of  biographies  in  no  uncertain  terms: 
"  Lives  are  really  becoming  overpowering.  Old  Pusey — 
the  smallest  of  human  beings — has,  I  think,  four  monstrous 
volumes,  discussing  baptismal  regeneration  and  the  like. 
It  makes  one  ashamed  of  the  intellect  of  the  race.  .  .  . 
There  are  two  volumes  about  Dean  Stanley,  principally 
to  show  that  he  acted  as  personal  conductor  to  the  Prince 
of  Wales."  2  A  realisation  of  the  full  import  of  the  problem 
and  a  proper  application  of  well-merited  ridicule  may  have 
the  effect  of  bringing  the  biographies  of  the  future  within 
reasonable  compass. 

Herbert  Spencer  has  called  attention  to  a  defect  neces 
sarily  arising  out  of  omission  for  purposes  of  compression: 
"  A  biographer  or  autobiographer  is  obliged  to  omit  from 
his  narrative  the  commonplaces  of  daily  life,  and  to  limit 
himself  almost  exclusively  to  salient  events,  action,  and 
traits.  The  writing  and  the  reading  of  the  bulky  volumes 
otherwise  required  would  be  alike  impossible.  But  by 
leaving  out  the  humdrum  part  of  life,  forming  that  im 
mensely  larger  part  which  it  had  in  common  with  other 
lives,  and  by  setting  forth  only  the  striking  things,  he  pro 
duces  the  impression  that  it  differed  from  other  lives  more 
than  it  really  did.  This  defect  is  inevitable."  3  It  is  true 
that  in  great  degree  a  biographer  "  is  obliged  to  omit  Irom 
his  narrative  the  commonplaces  of  daily  life  " — for  the 
simple  reason  that  biography  is  an  art — and  it  is  likewise 
true  that  the  defect  to  which  Mr.  Spencer  calls  attention 
is  less  noticeable  in  the  works  of  those  biographers  who 
possess  the  highest  artistic  ability. 

Turning  from  problems  to  tendencies,  we  may  remark 

1  Chambers' s  Encyclopedia,  article  "Biography." 
•  In  letter  (Dec.  23,   1904)  to  Charles  Eliot  Norton,  quoted  in 
Maitland's  Life  of  Stephen,  p.  420. 
s  Autobiography,  vol.  ii.  pp.  326-7. 

P 


226  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

first  that  there  is  no  decline  in  the  amount  of  biography 
that  is  being  written  and  published;  rather,  it  seems  to  be 
on  the  increase.  Life-narrative  is  still  dividing  attention 
well  with  fiction.  It  is  pleasing  to  note  that  "  a  good  bio 
graphy  has  a  chance  amid  the  welter  of  war."  x  With  the 
good,  there  are,  of  course,  great  numbers  of  worthless 
biographies  published.  We  must  simply  submit  to  the 
output,  and,  as  in  the  past,  allow  the  worthless  ones  to 
disappear.  We  may,  perhaps,  and  rightly  find  fault  with 
those  biographers  who  profess  merely  "  to  submit  materials 
for  others  to  work  up  " — professions  which  amount  to 
confessions  of  biographical  incompetence.  These  incom 
petents,  however,  may  also  be  performing  a  service,  and  on 
their  failures  more  skilful  writers  may  erect  successes. 

Lives  of  the  type  of  Johnson's  Savage  and  Carlyle's 
Sterling  seem  to  be  increasing  in  number,  although  in 
quality  few  can  approach  these  great  models.  Although 
Ruskin  probably  went  too  far  in  saying  that  "  Lives  in 
which  the  public  are  interested  are  scarcely  ever  worth 
writing,"  there  is  no  evidence  that  Carlyle's  statement 
that  "  a  true  delineation  of  the  smallest  man,  and  his  scene 
of  pilgrimage  through  life,  is  capable  of  interesting  the 
greatest  man,"  is  in  any  sense  exaggerated.  It  may  not  be 
true  that  the  life  of  a  comparatively  insignificant,  unknown 
person  is  of  value  only  when  told  and  interpreted  by  a 
writer  of  the  deepest  insight  and  greatest  artistic  ability; 
yet  so  much  depends,  in  such  a  case,  upon  the  interpreta 
tion  that  successful  biographies  of  this  type  are  likely  to 
remain  the  scarcest  in  the  language.  Few,  indeed,  since 
Carlyle's  Sterling  have  risen  to  the  height  of  Charles 
William  Eliot's  brief  sketch,  John  Gilley,  Maine  Farmer 
and  Fisherman. 

1  In  article  "  War  and  Books,"  by  James  Milne,  literary  editor 
of  The  Daily  Chronicle,  July  27,  191 5. 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       227 

Redivival  biography  continues  to  flourish.  No  pains  are 
being  spared  to  reproduce  from  the  dusty  records  of  the 
past  some  semblance  of  a  man.  In  certain  instances  such 
biographies  are  clearly  fulfilling  a  purpose,  as,  for  example, 
in  the  case  of  Laurence  Sterne,  who  waited  almost  a  century 
for  a  biographer.  The  success  of  such  attempts  can  be  but 
approximate;  it  is  not  possible  for  such  biographies  to 
attain  to  anything  like  the  truth  and  fidelity  of  those 
written  by  contemporaries.  "  Some  have  affected  to  write 
the  lives  of  persons  long  since  dead  and  gone,  and  their 
names  preserved  only  by  some  formal  remains,  and  (ever) 
dubious  traditions,"  wrote  Roger  North  near  the  middle 
of  the  eighteenth  century.  "  So,"  he  continues,  "  painters 
copy  from  obscure  draughts  half  obliterated,  whereof  no 
member,  much  less  the  entire  resemblance,  is  to  be  found. 
But  fiction,  supported  upon  seeming  probability,  must 
fill  up  the  blanks  and  supply  all  defects.  In  this  manner 
some  lives  have  become  redivival,  but  with  partial  views, 
tending  either  to  panegyric,  the  advance  of  some  favourite 
opinions,  or  factious  intrigues;  which  are  fiercely  pursued, 
while  the  life-scraps  come  out  very  thin  and  meagre.  And, 
after  great  length  of  time,  how  should  it  come  off  better  ?  "  1 
Yet  not  for  this  reason  should  we  dismiss  earnest  attempts 
to  produce  such  narratives,  or  deny  ourselves  such  informa 
tion  and  pleasure  as  they  may  give  us.  There  is  always  a 
place  for  such  a  scholarly  effort  as  that  recently  made  by 
Professor  Charles  Mills  Gayley,  to  fashion  for  us  from  most 
difficult  materials  some  semblance  of  the  personality  of 
Francis  Beaumont.2  One  could  scarcely  set  before  oneself  a 
more  difficult  biographical  task  than  to  distinguish  clearly  be 
tween  Francis  Beaumont  and  John  Fletcher — to  eliminate 
the  "  and  "  which  has  so  long  united  the  "  heavenly  twins." 

1  Lives  of  the  Norths,  vol.  iii.  pp.  273-4. 
*  In  his  Beaumont  the  Dramatist. 


28  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

The  shadowy  border -land  between  biography  and 
fiction  was  never  more  clearly  evident  than  it  is  at  the 
present.  In  autobiography,  especially,  is  there  danger  of 
wandering  too  far  from  actual  fact.  The  danger  is,  perhaps, 
unavoidable :  for  most  of  us  the  past  is  the  land  of  romance, 
and  from  our  experience  in  that  golden  realm  all  unpleasant 
ness  has  disappeared,  or  has  been,  at  least,  softened.  It  is 
difficult  to  write  of  past  experiences  from  the  point  of  view 
of  the  past.  Such  novels  as  David  Copperfield  and  the  Mill 
on  the  Floss  are  full  of  personal  reminiscences,  and  go  to 
show  how  easy  it  is  for  autobiography  to  be  turned  in  the 
direction  of  fiction.  In  his  recent  book,  Father  and  Son, 
which  was  crowned  in  1913  by  the  French  Academy, 
Edmund  Gosse  remarks  that  "  at  the  present  hour,  when 
fiction  takes  forms  so  ingenious  and  so  specious,  it  is 
perhaps  necessary  to  say  that  the  .  .  .  narrative,  in  all  its 
parts,  and  so  far  as  the  punctilious  attention  of  the  writer 
has  been  able  to  keep  it  so,  is  scrupulously  true."  The 
volume  has  much  of  the  charm  and  much  of  the  method  of 
fiction;  it  was  put  forth  anonymously,  and  with  the  names 
of  persons  altered.  The  narrative  constitutes  a  biography 
of  the  father  (Philip  Henry  Gosse)  and  an  autobiography 
of  the  son  (Edmund)  from  birth  to  his  twenty-first  year. 
Thus,  however  careful  Mr.  Gosse  has  been  to  write  what 
is  "  scrupulously  true,"  the  reader  feels  that  over  the  entire 
narrative  there  hangs  a  veil — the  blue  haze  of  the  past — 
and  that  between  the  story  of  Father  and  Son  and  fiction 
that  is  fashioned  out  of  fact,  there  lies  but  a  step.  The 
book  is  wrought  out  of  such  stuff  "  as  dreams  are  made  on." 
In  William  Henry  Venable's  A  Buckeye  Boyhood,  America 
has  produced  a  somewhat  similar  veiled  autobiography, 
which,  though  perhaps  following  Mr.  Gosse's  work  at  a 
distance,  is  yet  worthy  to  be  named  with  it.  Read  in 
connexion  with  such  matter-of-fact  works  as  the  auto- 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       229 

biographies  of  Franklin,  Hume,  and  Gibbon,  the  tendency 
illustrated  by  such  books  as  these  of  Mr.  Gosse  and 
Mr.  Venable  will  stand  forth  clearly. 

Mr.  Gosse,  in  the  Preface  to  Father  and  Son,  says  that 
the  book  "  is  offered  ...  as  a  record  of  educational  and 
religious  conditions  which,  having  passed  away,  will  never 
return.  In  this  respect,  as  the  diagnosis  of  a  dying  Puritan 
ism,  it  is  hoped  that  the  narrative  will  not  be  altogether 
without  significance."  One  cannot  help  wondering,  after 
reading  these  words,  whether  Mr.  Gosse,  during  the  period 
of  writing  his  narrative,  ever  thought  of  a  certain  New 
England  novel;  for  long  before,  in  his  Doctor  Johns: 
Being  a  Narrative  of  Certain  Events  in  the  Life  of  an  Orthodox 
Minister  of  Connecticut,  Donald  Grant  Mitchell  also  diag 
nosed  phases  of  "  a  dying  Puritanism."  There  are  many 
points  of  likeness  between  honest,  fervid  Doctor  Johns  and 
Philip  Henry  Gosse;  young  Reuben  Johns  chafed  under 
his  father's  restraints  as  bitterly  as  ever  Edmund  Gosse  did. 
Both  books  show  the  results — somewhat  different  to  be 
sure — of  an  unyielding,  but  mistaken  religious  educational 
regime.  Although  it  professes  to  be  simply  fiction  Mr. 
Mitchell's  novel  is  full  of  autobiographical  touches.  These 
two  works  should  be  read  in  conjunction  by  those  who 
wish  to  study  the  manner  in  which  fact  and  fiction  blend 
in  autobiography — the  manner  in  which  fact  readily  and 
easily  shades  into  pure  fiction.  The  one  book  is  the  comple 
ment  of  the  other. 

The  long-growing  tendency  to  avoid  panegyric  has  been 
steadily  strengthened  and  confirmed;  we  no  longer  demand 
idealised  biography.  We  have  grown  very  far  away  from 
the  opinions  expressed  by  William  Wordsworth  in  1816, 
in  his  letter  to  James  Gray  concerning  biographies  of  Robert 
Burns.  Wordsworth  would  have  us  shrink  from  the  truth; 
he  would  have  us  shield  the  life  of  authors  from  close 


230  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

inspection;  he  would  have  us  accept  the  works  as  apart 
from  the  workers : 

"  Your  feelings,  I  trust,"  writes  Wordsworth  to  Gray,  "  go  along 
with  mine;  and  rising  from  this  individual  case  [Robert  Burns]  to 
a  general  view  of  the  subject,  you  will  probably  agree  with  me  in 
opinion  that  biography,  though  differing  in  some  essentials  from 
works  of  fiction,  is  nevertheless,  like  them,  an  art — an  art,  the  laws 
of  which  are  determined  by  the  imperfections  of  our  nature,  and  the 
constitution  of  society.  Truth  is  not  here,  as  in  the  sciences,  and  in 
natural  philosophy,  to  be  sought  without  scruple,  and  promulgated 
for  its  own  sake,  upon  the  mere  chance  of  its  being  serviceable ;  but 
only  for  obviously  justifying  purposes,  moral  or  intellectual. 

"  Silence  is  a  privilege  of  the  grave,  a  right  of  the  departed:  let 
him,  therefore,  who  infringes  that  right,  by  speaking  publicly  of, 
for,  or  against,  those  who  cannot  speak  for  themselves,  take  heed 
that  he  opens  not  his  mouth  without  a  sufficient  sanction.  De 
mortuis  nil  nisi  bonum,  is  a  rule  in  which  these  sentiments  have  been 
pushed  to  an  extreme  that  proves  how  deeply  humanity  is  interested 
in  maintaining  them.  .  .  . 

"  The  general  obligation  upon  which  I  have  insisted,  is  especially 
binding  upon  those  who  undertake  the  biography  of  authors.  As 
suredly,  there  is  no  cause  why  the  lives  of  that  class  of  men  should 
be  pried  into  with  the  same  diligent  curiosity,  and  laid  open  with 
the  same  disregard  of  reserve,  which  may  sometimes  be  expedient 
in  composing  the  history  of  men  who  have  borne  an  active  part  in 
the  world.  Such  thorough  knowledge  of  the  good  and  bad  qualities 
of  these  latter,  as  can  only  be  obtained  by  a  scrutiny  of  their  private 
lives,  conduces  to  explain  not  only  their  public  conduct,  but  that 
of  those  with  whom  they  have  acted.  Nothing  of  this  applies  to 
authors,  considered  merely  as  authors.  Our  business  is  with  their 
books — to  understand  and  to  enjoy  them.  And,  of  poets  more 
especially,  it  is  true — that,  if  their  works  be  good,  they  contain 
within  themselves  all  that  is  necessary  to  their  being  comprehended 
and  relished.  It  should  seem  that  the  ancients  thought  in  this 
manner;  for  of  the  eminent  Greek  and  Roman  poets,  few  and 
scanty  memorials  were,  I  believe,  ever  prepared ;  and  fewer  still  are 
preserved.  It  is  delightful  to  read  what,  in  the  happy  exercise  of 
his  own  genius,  Horace  chooses  to  communicate  of  himself  and  his 
friends;  but  I  confess  I  am  not  so  much  a  lover  of  knowledge, 
independent  of  its  quality,  as  to  make  it  likely  that  it  would  much 
rejoice  me,  were  I  to  hear  that  records  of  the  Sabine  poet  and 
his  contemporaries,  composed  upon  the  Boswellian  plan,  had  been 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       231 

unearthed  among  the  ruins  of  Herculaneura.  You  will  interpret 
what  I  am  writing,  liberally.  With  respect  to  the  light  which  such 
a  discovery  might  throw  upon  Roman  manners,  there  would  be 
reasons  to  desire  it:  but  I  should  dread  to  disfigure  the  beautiful 
ideal  of  the  memories  of  those  illustrious  persons  with  incongruous 
features,  and  to  sully  the  imaginative  purity  of  their  classical  works 
with  gross  and  trivial  recollections.  The  least  weighty  objection  to 
heterogeneous  details,  is  that  they  are  mainly  superfluous,  and 
therefore  an  incumbrance. 

"  But  you  will  perhaps  accuse  me  of  refining  too  much;  and  it  is, 
I  own,  comparatively  of  little  importance,  while  we  are  engaged  in 
reading  the  Iliad,  the  Eneid,  the  tragedies  of  Othello  and  King  Lear, 
whether  the  authors  of  those  poems  were  good  or  bad  men;  whether 
they  lived  happily  or  miserably."  l 

While  we  are  simply  engaged  in  reading  great  works  it 
may,  indeed,  be  a  matter  of  "  comparatively  little  import 
ance  whether  the  authors  were  good  or  bad  men;  whether 
they  lived  happily  or  miserably  ";  but  when  we  turn  to  a 
consideration  of  an  author's  life — in  other  words,  when  we 
turn  to  the  biography  of  an  author — it  is  a  matter  of 
importance  that  we  have  the  truth.  Biography,  in  short, 
has  come  to  be  regarded  as  "  a  truthful  picture  of  life,  of 
life's  tangled  skein,  good  and  ill  together.  Biography 
prejudices  its  chances  of  success  when  it  is  consciously 
designed  as  an  ethical  guide  of  life."2  While  there  is  a 
present-day  demand  for  truth,  there  is  at  the  same  time 
no  demand  that  the  faults  of  a  man's  life  should  be  exag 
gerated  :  a  due  sense  of  proportion  is  all  that  is  asked  for.1 
Wordsworth  speaks  of  the  "  poetic  character  which  Burns 
reared  on  the  basis  of  his  actual  character,"  and  would 
have  us  consider  this  "  airy  fabric  "  alone,  forgetting  that 
branch  cannot  be  separated  from  root.  Wordsworth's 

1  Prose  Works  of  Wordsworth,  Edited  by  William  Knight,  vol.  ii. 
pp.  259-77. 

•  Lee,  Principles  of  Biography,  p.  20. 

1  As  a  statement  of  one  point  of  view,  Mrs.  Oliphant's  article  on 
"  The  Ethics  of  Biography,"  in  the  Contemporary  Review,  July  1883. 
is  interesting. 


232  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

method,  followed  to  its  logical  conclusion,  would  soon 
result  in  myth;  in  fact  he  seemed  to  prefer  that  details 
of  a  poet's  life  should  recede  more  and  more  into  the 
mythical  past. 

"  Now,  there's  Abraham  Lincoln,"  remarked  Walt 
Whitman  one  day  to  Horace  Traubel,  and  his  words  may 
well  be  set  down  in  contrast  to  those  of  Wordsworth — 
"  Now,  there's  Abraham  Lincoln :  people  get  to  know  his 
traits,  his  habits  of  life,  some  of  his  characteristics  set  off 
in  the  most  positive  relief;  soon  all  sorts  of  stories  are 
fathered  on  him — some  of  them  true,  some  of  them  apo 
cryphal — volumes  of  stories  (stories  decent  and  indecent) 
fathered  on  him:  legitimate  stories,  illegitimate:  and  so 
Lincoln  comes  to  us  more  or  less  falsified.  Yet  I  know  that 
the  hero  is  after  all  greater  than  any  idealisation.  Un 
doubtedly — just  as  the  man  is  greater  than  his  portrait 
— the  landscape  than  the  picture  of  it — the  fact  than 
anything  we  can  know  about  the  fact.  While  I  accept  the 
records  I  think  we  know  very  little  of  the  actual.  I  often 
reflect,  how  very  different  every  fellow  must  have  been 
from  the  fellow  we  come  upon  in  the  myths — with  the 
surroundings,  the  incidents,  the  push  and  pull  of  the 
concrete  moment,  all  left  out  or  wrongly  set  forth.  It  is 
hard  to  extract  a  man's  real  self — any  man — from  such  a 
chaotic  mass — from  such  historic  debris." l  Later  on, 
Traubel  records :  "  W.  said  to  me  to-night  again  as  he  has 
before:  *  Some  day  you  will  be  writing  about  me:  be  sure 
to  write  about  me  honest :  whatever  you  do  do  not  prettify 
me:  include  all  the  hells  and  damns.'  Adding:  '  I  have 
hated  so  much  of  the  biography  in  literature  because  it  is 
so  untrue :  look  at  our  national  figures  how  they  are  spoiled 
by  liars:  by  the  people  who  think  they  can  improve  on 
God  Almighty's  work — who  put  on  an  extra  touch  here, 
1  With  Walt  Whitman  in  Camden,  vol.  i.  p.  108. 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       233 

there,  here  again,  there  again,  until  the  real  man  is  no 
longer  recognisable."  l  We  may  safely  conclude  that  the 
tendency  of  the  present  is  towards  the  truth;  that  here 
after  men's  faults  will  be  set  forth  in  proper  proportion. 
In  America,  the  TV ue  Series  of  biographies  bears  testimony 
to  an  honest — if  not  always  successful — endeavour  to  write 
biography  that  is  not  deformed  panegyric  or  refined  myth. 
The  Boswell-autobiographical  method  has  become  firmly 
established.  Its  persistence  in  all  great  biography  of  the 
present  is  evidence  that  it  will  dominate  the  future.  It  is 
worth  while  to  record  that  one  of  the  most  recent  (1915) 
biographies,  The  Life  and  Work  of  Edward  Rowland  Sill, 
achieves  a  successful  delineation  of  its  subject,  perhaps 
because  its  author,  William  Belmont  Parker,  abandoned  his 
original  design — although  he  had  half  completed  his  task 
— and,  acting  upon  a  hint  expressed  in  Leslie  Stephen's 
essay  on  Autobiography,  turned  back  to  make  the  book,  so 
far  as  possible,  an  autobiography  of  Sill.  Modern  bio 
graphies  differ,  of  course,  very  much  from  BoswelPs  model; 
almost  all  of  them,  as  is  well-nigh  inevitable,  contain  far 
less  of  conversation.  The  present  has  produced,  however, 
one  work  that  approaches  Boswell's.  Mr.  Horace  Traubel 
has  thus  far  given  in  his  With  Walt  Whitman  in  Camden  a 
minute  record  of  Whitman's  life  from  March  28,  1888,  until 
January  20,  1889.  The  1614  pages  of  this  three-volume 
record  contain  an  amount  of  conversation  equalling,  if  not 
surpassing,  that  of  Johnson's  gathered  by  Boswell.  Mr. 
Traubel  has  not,  unfortunately,  written  a  biography  of 
Whitman,  he  has  merely  published  the  record  which  he 
made  day  by  day.  "  I  do  not  want  to  re-shape  those  years," 
he  writes.  "  I  want  them  left  as  they  were.  I  keep  them 
forever  contemporary.  I  trust  in  the  spontaneity  of  first 
impressions.  ...  So  I  have  let  Whitman  alone.  I  have 
1  With  Walt  Whitman  in  Camden,  vol.  i.  p.  398. 


234  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

let  him  remain  the  chief  figure  in  his  own  story.  ...  I  do 
not  come  to  conclusions.  I  provide  that  which  may  lead  to 
conclusions.  I  provoke  conclusions." l  Thus  it  is  that 
Mr.  Traubel  has  preferred  to  remain  a  recorder  rather  than 
attempted  to  become  a  biographer. 

Although  problems  are  being  faced  and  solutions 
attempted,  although  certain  tendencies  stand  forth  clearly, 
it  remains  true  that  the  end  of  the  experimental  stage  has 
not  yet  been  reached.  "  The  mode  of  treatment,  especially 
in  modern  times,  is  far  from  uniform.  In  some  cases  bio 
graphy  approaches  the  sphere  of  philosophy;  in  others, 
that  of  history;  while  in  the  majority  it  assumes,  to  a  large 
extent,  the  character  of  analytic  or  descriptive  criticism. 
To  none  of  these  modes,  theoretically  considered,  can  there 
be  any  valid  objection;  everything  depends  on  the 
judiciousness  of  the  biographer."  2  While  the  methods  may 
not  be  uniform,  the  aim  of  biography  has  become  fixed  and 
definite.  "  The  aim  of  biography  is,  in  general  terms,  to 
hand  down  to  a  future  age  the  history  of  individual  men 
and  women,  to  transmit  enduringly  their  character  and 
exploits.  Character  and  exploits  are  for  biographical  pur 
poses  inseparable.  Character  which  does  not  translate 
itself  into  exploit  is  for  the  biographer  a  mere  phantasm. 
The  exploit  may  range  from  mere  talk,  as  in  the  case  of 
Johnson,  to  empire-building  and  military  conquest,  as  in 
the  case  of  Julius  Caesar  or  Napoleon.  But  character  and 
exploit  jointly  constitute  biographic  personality.  Biography 
aims  at  satisfying  the  commemorative  instinct  by  exercise 
of  its  power  to  transmit  personality."  *  There  is  practical 
unanimity  of  belief  that  the  biographer  "  must  keep  per 
petually  in  view  .  .  .  the  personality  and  characteristics 
of  his  subject.  If  these  are  buried  under  a  load  of  digressive 

1  In  his  foreword,  "  To  Readers." 

*  New  International  Encyclopedia,  article  "  Biography." 

3  Lee,  Principles  of  Biography,  pp.  8-9. 


PROBLEMS  AND  TENDENCIES       235 

dissertations,  his  book,  however  valuable  or  interesting, 
ceases  to  be  a  biography  except  in  name."  l 

We  have  no  reason  to  deplore  either  the  course  of  the 
best  modern  biography,  or  the  tendencies  of  the  first 
quarter  of  the  twentieth  century.  Already  we  may  point 
with  pride  to  such  works  as  Allen's  Life  of  Phillips  Brooks, 
Morley's  Life  of  Gladstone,  Palmer's  Alice  Freeman  Palmer, 
and  Cook's  Life  of  Ruskin.  The  very  length  of  three  of 
these  biographies  impresses  upon  us,  however,  the  necessity 
of  emphasising  the  admonition  of  Sir  Sidney  Lee :  "  More 
than  ever  at  the  present  day  is  there  imperative  need 
of  winnowing  biographic  information,  of  dismissing  the 
voluminous  chaff  while  conserving  the  grain.  .  .  .  The 
biographer's  labours  will  hereafter  be  immensely  increased ; 
but  they  will  be  labours  lost,  unless  principles  of  discrimina 
tion  be  rigorously  applied."  2 

1  New  International  Encyclopedia,  article  "  Biography." 
*  Principles  of  Biography,  pp.  41-2. 


236  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


CHAPTER  X 

A   COMPARATIVE   VIEW 

To  give  anything  like  an  adequate  account  of  comparative 
biography  would  require  a  large  volume,  if,  indeed,  the 
subject  could  be  compassed  within  that  limit.  It  is  no  part 
of  the  task  we  have  in  hand  to  attempt  such  an  ambitious 
survey;  but  we  may,  with  profit  to  ourselves,  review 
briefly  the  world  contribution  before  the  rise  of  the  form  in 
the  British  Islands;  trace  the  chief  influences  which  have 
affected  English  biographers ;  and  glance  sufficiently  at  the 
work  accomplished  by  the  leading  modern  nations  to  enable 
us  to  estimate  the  progress  made  by  English  biography, 
and  thus  form  some  opinion  of  its  comparative  rank.  The 
value  of  the  work  accomplished  by  English  authors  in  this 
department  of  literature  will,  as  a  result,  become  more 
clearly  evident. 

Adamnan's  Life  of  St.  Columba  is  the  first  authentic 
manifestation  of  the  biographical  impulse  in  Britain.  Its 
approximate  date  is  690  A.D.  The  work  of  the  ninth  Abbot 
of  lona  was  preceded  by  a  large  body  of  biographical  com 
position,  written  principally  by  Greeks  and  Romans.  The 
Hebrews,  indeed,  produced  a  great  deal  that  may  be  classed 
as  biography,  but  the  Old  Testament  narratives  are  only 
incidentally,  not  deliberately,  biographical.  The  four 
Gospels  constitute  biographies  of  Jesus  Christ,  and  much 
of  the  remainder  of  the  New  Testament,  if  not  intentionally 
so,  is  yet  autobiographical  in  method.  If  we  cared  to  press 
the  matter  still  farther  back,  we  might  add,  what  has  often 
been  remarked,  that  all  ancient  mythologies  are  but  lives  of 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  237 

heroes  and  gods.  The  biographical  instinct  is  thus  seen  to  be 
deep-seated  and  ancient,  carrying  us  back,  in  truth,  to  the 
very  borderland  of  history  and  myth. 

With  the  pre-historical  manifestations  of  biography  we 
need  not  concern  ourselves.  The  attempt  would  be,  with 
out  doubt,  interesting,  but  hardly  profitable  for  the  purpose 
of  this  sketch.  We  may  take  up  the  thread  of  our  investi 
gation  from  the  date  of  the  first  specimen  of  deliberate 
biography,  the  Memorabilia  of  Socrates,  the  work  of 
Xenophon  (430  ?~355  ?),  dating  from  about  390  B.C.  The 
Memorabilia  is  the  tribute  of  a  loyal  and  appreciative 
disciple  to  the  memory  of  a  great  master  rather  than  a 
complete  biography.  The  work  lacks  artistic  unity  and 
coherence;  it  contains  little  of  the  history  of  the  steps  by 
which  Socrates  advanced  from  youth  to  old  age;  the 
whole  forms  a  one-sided  picture,  because  Xenophon  con 
fines  himself  chiefly  to  one  period  of  Socrates'  life,  and  to 
one  aspect  of  that  period — the  aspect  of  the  skilful  and 
influential  teacher.  The  moral  and  practical  in  the  life  of 
Socrates  were  the  elements  which  appealed  to  Xenophon, 
and  as  a  result  we  feel  that  Xenophon  gives  us  less,  just  as 
we  feel  that  Plato  gives  us  more,  than  the  true  Socrates. 
Nevertheless,  the  Memorabilia  is  an  excellent  experiment  in 
biography,  and  not  without  value  to  those  who,  at  the  pre 
sent  day,  undertake  life-writing.  It  is  the  work  of  one  who 
knew  his  subject  well;  it  contains  much  conversation,  and 
without  doubt  gives  us  a  clear  notion  of  Socrates'  method 
of  teaching;  it  strikes  a  wise  balance  between  undue  praise 
on  the  one  hand  and  uncharitable  blame  on  the  other;  if 
primarily  a  tribute,  it  is  fundamentally  sane  in  its  attitude. 
We  may  still  study,  with  benefit  to  ourselves,  this  first 
authentic  and  deliberate  specimen  of  biography. 

The  Greeks  furnish  us  not  only  the  first  biography,  but 
also,  in  Plutarch  (46-120  A.D.),  the  greatest  among  ancient 


238  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

biographers.  Plutarch's  Parallel  Lives  are  so  well  known, 
and  have  exerted  so  great  an  influence  upon  history,  bio 
graphy,  and  literature,  that  no  further  comment  upon  them 
is  here  necessary.  The  tale  of  Greek  biographers  does  not, 
however,  close  with  Plutarch.  To  Diogenes  Laertius 
(second  century)  we  owe  the  Lives  of  Philosophers,  which, 
although  thrown  together  without  orderly  arrangement, 
and  on  the  whole  of  doubtful  critical  value,  yet  preserve 
information  in  regard  to  the  private  life-details  of  ancient 
philosophers,  anecdotes  of  their  lives,  and  quotations  from 
lost  works,  otherwise  unknown  to  us.  In  short,  the  work  of 
Diogenes  Laertius  is  our  chief  source  for  the  history  of 
Greek  philosophy,  and  upon  it  all  modern  histories  of  the 
subject  are  based.  Philostratus  (c.  170-245)  has  given  us 
the  Lives  of  the  Sophists,  a  series  of  "  picturesque  impres 
sions  "  of  the  leaders  among  the  so-called  sophistical  philo 
sophers;  and  the  In  Honour  of  Apollonius  of  Tyana,  a 
work  biographical  in  method,  but  pronounced  by  critics  to 
be  "  a  philosophical  and  historical  romance."  *  Olympio- 
dorus  of  Alexandria  (6th  century)  wrote  in  Greek  a  Life  of 
Plato.  These  are  the  chief  manifestations  of  the  form: 
from  them  one  may  gain  a  clear  notion  of  the  theory  and 
the  practice  of  biography  as  set  forth  by  the  Greeks. 

Among  the  Romans,  the  Illustrious  Men  of  Cornelius 
Nepos  (c.  99-24  B.C.)  stands  first  in  point  of  time.  Tacitus 
(c.  55-120  A.D.)  made  an  enduring  contribution  to  separate 
biography  in  the  Life  of  Agricola,  published  in  97  or  98  A.D. 
It  was  the  purpose  of  Tacitus,  in  this  work,  to  do  honour  to 
the  memory  of  his  father-in-law;  he  did  not,  however, 
allow  his  affection  to  mislead  him,  but  wrote  in  a  lofty  tone 
of  dignified  restraint.  The  work  may  well  be  studied  by 

1  See  the  brilliant  study  and  translation,  Philostratus  :  In  Honour 
of  Apollonius  of  Tyana,  by  Professor  J.  S.  Phillimore,  University 
of  Glasgow.  Oxford,  1912. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  239 

biographers  as  an  example  of  "  noblest  eloquence  "  com 
bined  with  "  the  most  perfect  good  taste."  Suetonius 
(second  century)  is  the  Roman  Plutarch.  His  most  valu 
able  work  is  the  Lives  of  the  Twelve  Caesars,  a  collection 
replete  with  information  in  regard  to  the  personal  lives  of 
the  Roman  emperors,  dealing  far  more  with  private  details 
of  their  lives  than  with  the  history  of  their  reigns.  In  a 
much  slighter  way,  Suetonius  wrote  also  the  Lives  of 
Eminent  Grammarians,  Rhetoricians,  and  Poets. 

Classical  biography  was  chiefly  collective;  that  is,  the 
Greek  and  Roman  biographers  produced  collections  of  lives 
grouped  together  either  because  the  units  exhibited  some 
common  characteristic,  or  because  the  group  subserved  a 
distinctive  purpose  in  the  author's  plan.  Thus  Suetonius 
grouped  together  as  one  work  the  Lives  of  the  Caesars,  just 
as  he  did  the  Lives  of  Grammarians,  Rhetoricians,  and  Poets, 
respectively;  Plutarch  wrote  such  lives  as  would  subserve 
his  purpose  of  parallel  treatment;  Diogenes  Laertius  wrote 
the  Lives  of  Philosophers  in  such  a  way  as  to  develop,  after 
his  fashion,  the  history  of  philosophy,  while  Philostratus 
dealt  with  such  as  he  could  make  subserve  his  plan  of 
exhibiting  what  he  termed  the  sophistic  movement.  Of 
separate  biography,  such  as  Xenophon's  Memorabilia  or 
Tacitus'  Life  of  Agricola,  there  was  little. 

The  ancients,  indeed,  scarcely  looked  upon  biography 
as  a  separate  and  distinctive  form  of  literature;  for  them, 
it  served  rather  as  a  means  of  historical  and  ethical  in 
struction.  We  are  not  surprised,  therefore,  to  find  that  a 
prevailing  characteristic  of  classical  biography  was  its 
moral  purpose.  "  Moral  good,"  writes  Plutarch  in  his 
account  of  Pericles,  "  is  a  practical  stimulus;  it  is  no  sooner 
seen,  than  it  inspires  an  impulse  to  practice;  and  influences 
the  mind  and  character  not  by  a  mere  imitation  which  we 
look  at,  but  by  the  statement  of  the  fact  creates  a  moral 


240  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

purpose  which  we  form.  And  so  we  have  thought  fit  to  spend 
our  time  and  pains  in  writing  the  lives  of  famous  persons."  l 
The  example  set  by  Plutarch  was  far-reaching.  It  is  only  in 
the  present  that  we  find  anything  like  concerted  insistence 
on  the  fact  that  "  true  biography  is  no  handmaid  of 
ethical  instruction " ;  that  any  assistance  rendered  by 
biography  to  ethical  interests  (as  well  as  to  historical  and 
scientific  interests)  should  be  accidental;  that  biography 
"  rules  a  domain  of  its  own";  that  it  is,  in  short, 
"  autonomous."  2 

We  should  never  lose  sight  of  the  fact  that  it  was  not, 
however,  from  classical  models  that  biography  in  Britain 
received  its  impulse.  As  we  have  shown  in  Chapter  I.,  the 
first  important  influence  on  English  biography  was  that 
exerted  during  the  Latin  period  by  the  Scriptures  and  the 
writings  of  the  Church  Fathers.  It  seems  clear,  in  brief, 
that  those  early  attempts  at  life-recording  were  directly 
inspired  by  the  literature  of  the  Christian  Church.  A  point 
worthy  of  careful  notice  in  this  connexion  is  the  little 
influence  of  the  Old  Testament  biographies  with  their 
commingling  of  good  and  bad  in  the  chequered  web  of  the 
lives  they  relate;  with  their  slight  tendency  to  panegyric. 
Moses,  Saul,  David — these  men  are  not  represented  in  the 
Old  Testament  narratives  as  impossible  embodiments  of 
unapproachable  virtue  and  divinity:  the  blackest  spots 
in  their  lives  are  revealed  to  us.  Not  thus  did  early  British 
biographers  write  of  their  subjects;  they  chose  rather  to 
model  their  works  after  the  Gospel  narratives.  The  power 
of  a  life — the  life  of  Jesus  Christ — had  entered  into  the 
world,  and  Christians,  especially  Churchmen,  whose  pro 
fessional  duty  it  was  to  point  the  way,  were  attempting  to 
mould  their  lives  after  the  Great  Model.  The  Christian 

1  Lives,  vol.  i.  p.  227,  Dent's  "  Everyman's  Library." 

2  Lee,  The  Principles  of  Biography,  p.  18. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  241 

world  of  the  period  was  in  earnest,  desperately  in  earnest, 
and  strove  with  all  the  means  known  to  ascetic  discipline 
to  "  keep  the  body  under  "  and  to  achieve  holiness  in  life. 
Small  wonder  is  it  that  the  miraculous  elements  in  both 
Old  and  New  Testaments  exerted  a  predominating  influ 
ence;  small  wonder  is  it  that,  in  their  earnestness,  the  early 
Britons  overemphasised  the  miraculous,  exaggerated  the 
holiness  of  their  subjects,  and  wrote  almost  impossible 
panegyrics:  they  were  but  attempting  to  make  of  their 
subjects  of  biography,  the  embodiments  of  the  ideal  holy 
life  which  they  were  keeping  before  themselves,  and  which 
they  considered  it  their  duty  to  keep  before  the  world. 
The  example  of  such  writers  as  St.  Athanasius,  in  his  Life 
of  St.  Anthony,  could  only  confirm  the  tendencies  of  British 
Churchmen.  To  these  early  British  biographers,  the  models 
set  by  pagan  writers,  even  had  their  works  been  known, 
would  have  made  little  appeal.  From  the  time  of  Adamnan, 
then,  until  after  Izaak  Walton  had  made  his  contribution 
to  the  form,  classical  biography  exerted  practically  no 
influence  in  Britain.  The  connecting  link  between  classical 
and  English  biography,  as  we  have  already  shown,  was 
Plutarch. 

Thus,  although  English  biography  began  eleven  centuries 
later  than  the  Memorabilia,  the  first  of  the  classical  fore 
runners;  and  although  more  than  eight  centuries  elapsed 
after  the  work  of  Adamnan  before  the  classical  proto 
types — chiefly  through  Plutarch — exerted  any  appreciable 
influence  on  the  work  of  English  biographers,  we  find 
little  to  regret  in  this  seemingly  slow  progress.  Looked 
upon  chiefly  as  history;  interested  mostly  in  teaching 
morality,  in  "  celebrating  definite  moral  qualities,"  bio 
graphy  was  not  concerned  primarily  with  a  delineation 
of  "  individual  characteristics."  As  Edmund  Gosse 
points  out,  "  the  true  conception  of  biography  as  the 

Q 


242  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

faithful  portrait  of  a  soul  in  its  adventures  through  life,  is 
very  modern.  We  may  question  whether  it  existed,  save 
in  rare  and  accidental  instances,  until  the  seventeenth 
century.  ...  It  was  very  difficult  to  teach  the  world  that, 
whatever  biography  is,  it  is  not  an  opportunity  for  pane 
gyric  or  invective,  and  the  lack  of  this  perception  destroys 
our  faith  in  most  of  the  records  of  personal  life  in  ancient 
and  mediaeval  times.  It  is  impossible  to  avoid  suspecting 
that  Suetonius  loaded  his  canvas  with  black  in  order  to 
excite  hatred  against  the  Roman  emperors ;  it  is  still  more 
difficult  to  accept  more  than  one  page  in  three  of  the  stories 
of  professional  hagiographers.  As  long  as  it  was  a  pious 
merit  to  deform  the  truth,  biography  could  not  hope  to 
flourish.  It  appears  to  have  originally  exerted  itself  when 
the  primitive  instinct  of  sympathy  began  to  have  free  play, 
that  is  to  say,  not  much  or  often  before  the  seventeenth 
century.  Moreover,  the  peculiar  curiosity  which  legitimate 
biography  satisfies  is  essentially  a  modern  thing;  and  pre 
supposes  an  observation  of  life  not  unduly  clouded  by 
moral  passion  or  prejudice."  1  In  the  light  of  these  state 
ments,  we  thus  see  that  English  biography  had  not  long  to 
wait  before  the  dawn  of  the  true  conception  of  the  type. 

A  statement  made  by  Edward  Phillips  at  the  beginning 
of  his  Life  of  Milton,2  in  addition  to  giving  us  a  contem 
porary  estimate  of  English  biography,  also  summarises 
for  us  the  chief  foreign  influences  operative  down  to  1694. 
Among  those  of  the  ancients  considered  by  the  English  as 
"  the  most  eminent  in  this  way  of  history  "  he  names 
Plutarch,  Diogenes  Laertius,  and  Cornelius  Nepos.  Of 
"  the  moderns,"  he  mentions  "  Machiavel,  a  noble  Floren 
tine,  who  elegantly  wrote  the  Life  ofCastruchio  Castracano, 
Lord  of  Luca ;  Gassendus  of  France;  and  Thuanus." 

1  Encyclopedia  Britannica,  article  "  Biography." 
8  Prefixed  to  Milton's  Letters  of  State. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  243 

His  list  of  English  biographers  is  limited  to  Sir  Fulke 
Greville;  "Mr.  Thomas  Stanly l  of  Cumberlo  Green, 
who  made  a  most  elaborate  improvement  on  Laertius"; 
and  Izaak  Walton. 

Phillips  was  right  in  giving  Plutarch  the  foremost  place, 
for  it  was  the  work  of  the  Greek  which  formed  the  connect 
ing  link  between  classical  and  English  biography.  The 
Parallel  Lives  were  translated  into  Italian  by  Alexander 
Jaconello  of  Riete  in  1480,  and  into  Spanish  by  Alfonso  de 
Palencia  in  1491 ;  but  their  influence  was  brought  to  bear 
upon  English  writers  chiefly  through  the  admirable  French 
translation  published  by  Jacques  Amyot  in  1565.  Happily 
for  the  work  of  Plutarch  it  found  in  Amyot  a  translator 
who  possessed  the  spirit  of  the  Greek  biographer  united 
with  a  gift  of  language  that  made  the  French  version  more 
than  a  bald  translation.  Happily,  also,  the  translation  was 
made  when  French  was  rising  to  a  commanding  position  in 
world  literature.  It  was  due  in  no  small  measure  to  this 
French  translation  that  Plutarch  came  to  be  recognised  as 
a  classic  "  naturalised  in  many  countries."  It  may  be  going 
somewhat  too  far  to  assert  that  but  for  Amyot  we  should 
probably  have  had  no  North's  Plutarch  ;  but  it  was  Amyot's 
version  which  Thomas  North  translated  into  English  in 
1579,  when  the  work  of  the  Greek  first  became  a  living 
influence  in  English  literature.  The  lateness  of  its  appear 
ance  in  an  English  version  indicates,  in  a  way,  the  measure 
of  its  influence  upon  English-speaking  peoples.  It  was  the 
Rev.  Edward  Edwards  who  pointed  out  that  if  we  speak 
of  Englishmen  at  large,  we  must  admit  that  Plutarch  has 
never  taken  "  that  hold  of  the  public  mind  which  he  took 
in  Italy,  and  still  more  conspicuously  in  France.  With  us, 
the  expressive  phrase,  *  One  of  the  men  of  Plutarch,' 

1  Stanly  was  one  of  two  to  whom  Phillips  addressed  the  Preface 
of  the  Theatrum  Poetarum. 


244  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

has  never  passed  into  a  proverb,  as  it  has  with  our 
neighbours." 1 

Nevertheless,  Plutarch,  once  made  accessible  to  the 
English,  was  carefully  read  and  his  example  heeded.  From 
Izaak  Walton  to  James  Boswell  we  may  trace  in  one  way  or 
another  the  influence  of  the  Greek.  Moreover,  we  must 
always  bear  in  mind  the  fact  that  Boswell  appealed  to  the 
authority  of  Plutarch,  as  to  "  the  prince  of  ancient  bio 
graphers,"  and  then  proceeded  to  write  his  Life  of  Johnson 
in  such  fashion  as  to  make  it  bear  the  same  resemblance  to 
the  dicta  of  Plutarch  in  regard  to  biography  that  a  full 
blown  rose  bears  to  the  bud.  We  should  likewise  always 
bear  in  mind  the  debt  which  Shakespeare,  through  North's 
translation,  owes  to  Plutarch.  Mr.  Edwards,  again,  in  an 
interesting  way  has  pointed  out  that  "  the  mere  literary 
affiliation  .  .  .  falls  short  of  the  main  truth.  Shakespeare 
gives  sublimity  to  passages  which  he  adopts  (almost  to  the 
letter)  by  a  faculty  which  was  his  alone.  But  what  he  makes 
to  blaze  was  already  in  a  glow.  Vast  as  is  the  disparity  of 
intellect,  there  is  unity  of  spirit  between  the  Greek  bio 
grapher  and  the  English  poet.  Had  Shakespeare  " — and 
here  we  have  the  main  point  for  which  we  quote — "  Had 
Shakespeare  set  himself  to  write  lives,  he  would  have  gone 
about  the  task,  one  feels  sure,  with  impressions,  as  to  its 
nature  and  aims,  very  like  those  which  Plutarch  has 
expressed  in  two  famous  passages  of  the  Life  of  Alexander 
and  of  the  Life  of  Nicias.  Shakespeare's  regard  for  the 
*  dignity  of  history  '  would  have  been  much  on  a  par  with 
Plutarch's."  2 

Although,  as  we  have  noticed,  most  ancient  biographical 
works  are  collective,  none  of  them  belongs  to  the  depart 
ment  of  general  biography;  nor  do  we  find  among  them 

1  A  Handbook  to  the  Literature  of  General  Biography,  p.  41 . 

2  Ibid.  pp.  41-2. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  245 

anything  resembling  a  dictionary  of  biography.1  The  cele 
brated  Lexicon  wrought  out  by  the  industry  of  the  Greek 
lexicographer  Suidas  (c.  loth  century)  is  an  uncritical 
collection  of  grammatical,  geographical,  and  biographical 
information  arranged  in  alphabetical  order,  bearing  some 
little  resemblance  to  an  historical  dictionary.  Its  compiler 
refers  to  a  source  of  the  biographical  notices,  the  Onomato- 
logion  or  Pinax  of  Hesychius  of  Miletus,  and  we  know  that 
the  excerpts  of  Constantine  Porphyrogenitus,  the  chronicle 
of  Georgius  Monachus,  the  biographies  of  Diogenes  Laer- 
tius,  and  the  works  of  Athanaeus  and  Philostratus  were 
also  drawn  upon.  We  may  feel  sure,  however,  that  no 
dictionary  of  biography,  in  the  true  sense,  existed  among 
the  ancients. 

The  work  which  pointed  the  way  for  makers  of  biographi 
cal  dictionaries  may  well  have  been  the  small  volume 
compiled  by  Hermannus  Torrentinus  under  the  title  Eluci- 
darius  Carminum  et  Historiarum  :  vel  Vocabularius  Poetic  us, 
continens  Historias,  Provincias,  Urbes,  Insulas,  Fluvios,  et 
Montes  Illustres,  and  printed  at  Hagenaw,  in  November 
1514.  In  this  little  volume,  among  the  alphabetical  lists  of 
provinces,  cities,  islands,  rivers,  and  mountains,  we  find 
also  the  names  of  gods  and  illustrious  men.  The  purpose 
of  the  compiler  was  to  provide  a  companion  volume  for  the 
readers  of  the  classic  poets.  The  descriptions  of  places  are, 
for  the  most  part,  brief;  a  number  of  the  biographical 
notices,  however,  are  more  extended,  those  of  Medea, 
Oedipus,  Ulysses,  and  Scylla  occupying  twenty-eight, 
twenty-nine,  thirty,  and  thirty-three  lines,  respectively. 
That  the  work  fulfilled  a  need  is  evidenced  by  the  fact  that 
twenty-four  editions  appeared  before  1537.  Its  influence 

1  R.  C.  Christie's  suggestive  article  on  "  Biographical  Dictionaries  " 
in  the  Quarterly  Review  (January  1884)  is,  unfortunately,  marred 
by  many  errors  of  fact. 


246  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

on  the  French  was  exerted  through  the  brothers,  Robert 
and  Charles  Estienne,  who  published  a  number  of  reprints, 
enlargements,  and  revisions,  which  culminated  in  1553  in 
Charles'  Latin  Dictionarium  Historicum,  Geographicum, 
ac  Poeticum,  the  first  French  encyclopaedia.  The  Die- 
tionarium  formed  the  basis  of  a  French  work,  Juigne- 
Broissiniere's  Dictionnaire  Theologique,  Historique,  Poetique, 
et  Cosmographique,  published  either  in  1627  (according  to 
the  Biographic  Universelle),  or  in  1644  (according  to  the 
Nouvelle  Biographie  Generate).  Poor  as  the  work  seems 
when  judged  by  present-day  standards,  it  was  of  value  in 
its  time,  and,  as  the  only  historical  and  biographical 
dictionary  in  the  French  language,  it  passed  through  at 
least  ten  editions  within  the  next  thirty  years.  Estienne 
must  have  received  immense  aid,  however,  from  another 
and  far  greater  work  than  that  of  Torrentinus.  We  refer 
to  the  Bibliotheca  Universalis  of  Konrad  Gesner  (1516-65), 
in  which  the  author  made  the  attempt  to  produce  a  cata 
logue  of  "  all  writers  living  or  dead,  ancient  or  modern, 
learned  or  unlearned,  published  or  in  manuscript,  but 
chiefly  of  those  in  the  Latin,  Greek,  and  Hebrew  languages." 
The  volume  was  published  at  Zurich  (Tigurinus)  in  Septem 
ber  1545,  in  Latin,1  and  formed  the  model  of  all  succeeding 
works  of  this  biographical  and  bibliographical  nature. 
Gesner  made  the  attempt  to  give  a  summary  of  the  contents, 
a  critical  estimate,  and  a  specimen  of  the  style  of  such 
writers  as  he  could  collect.  A  similar  ambitious  effort  was 
made  by  Anton  du  Verdi er  de  Vauprivas  (1544-1600),  in 
his  Prosopographia  Universalis  (Lyons,  1573). 

From  the  days  of  Estienne's  Historical  Dictionary,  the 
French  have  excelled  in  general  collections  of  lives  pub- 

1  Not  in  Latin,  Greek,  and  Hebrew,  as  a  number  of  English  writers 
erroneously  state:  the  title  page  r  ,ords  that  the  work  is  "  locu- 
pletissimus  in  tribus  linguis,  Latina,  G^eca,  et  Hebraica." 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  247 

lished  along  with  other  historical  matter.  In  1674  appeared 
Louis  Moreri's  Grand  Dictionnaire  Historique,  a  work  which 
so  completely  surpassed  all  its  predecessors  that  for  a 
century  it  set  the  standard.  Pierre  Bayle's  Dictionnaire 
Historique  et  Critique  (1697),  Jacques  George  de  Chauf epic's 
Nouveau  Dictionnaire  (1750),  and  Prosper  Marchand's 
Dictionnaire  Historique  (1758),  were  but  supplements  to  the 
work  of  Moreri.  In  1752  the  Abbe  L'Advocat  put  forth  his 
Dictionnaire  Historique  portatif  des  Grands  Hommes,  the 
first  work  to  merit  the  name  of  a  general  biographical 
dictionary.  During  the  nineteenth  century  the  French 
completed  their  great  contribution  to  general  biography 
with  their  deservedly  famous  Biographie  Universelle, 
Ancienne  et  Moderne  (1843-65)  and  Nouvelle  Biographie 
Generate  (1852-66). 

The  British  were  very  early  in  the  work  of  making 
biographical  and  bibliographical  collections  somewhat  after 
the  fashion  of  the  works  we  have  just  been  considering. 
John  Boston,  as  early  as  the  first  part  of  the  fifteenth 
century,  in  his  well-meaning  but  bandied-about  Catalogus 
Scriptorum  Ecclesiae  gave  a  list  of  the  principal  manu 
scripts  contained  in  the  English  universities  and  monas 
teries;  and,  although  his  work  never  came  to  print  in  its 
entirety,  his  attempt  preceded  even  that  of  Hermannus 
Torrentinus.  John  Bale's  Illustrium  Majoris  Britannia* 
Scriptorum  Summarium  was  the  first  of  such  British  works 
to  appear  in  print,  in  1548.  It  was  followed  by  John  Pits' 
De  Illustribus  Britanniae  Scriptoribus,  printed  in  1619. 
The  work  of  John  Leland,  which  preceded  that  of  both 
Bale  and  Pits,  did  not  reach  publication  until  1709.  Although 
the  English  were  thus  early  in  their  attempts,  they  confined 
themselves  chiefly  to  collecting  notices  of  their  own  writers, 
and  neglected  the  compilation  of  a  dictionary  of  general 
biography.  In  fact,  while  stimulated  by  such  great  efforts 


248  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

as  that  made  by  the  Bollandists  in  the  preparation  of  the 
A  eta  Sanctorum  (1653),  and  by  the  works  of  the  French 
— the  Historical  Dictionary  of  Charles  Estienne  (of  which 
an  edition  revised  and  enlarged  by  Nicholas  Lloyd  was 
published  in  Latin  at  Oxford  in  1670)  and  the  Grand 
Dictionnaire  of  Moreri  and  its  supplements — the  English 
have  completed  no  great  dictionary  devoted  exclusively  to 
general  biography. 

The  attempt  to  produce  a  great  English  general  bio 
graphical  dictionary  has  indeed  been  made,  and  that  at  a 
date  preceding  the  publication  of  the  first  volume  of  the 
Biographie  Universelle.  This  work,  under  the  editorship  of 
George  Long,  was  undertaken  by  The  Society  for  the 
Diffusion  of  Universal  Knowledge,  and  progressed  (1842—4) 
through  the  letter  A  in  four  volumes,  when,  owing  to  lack 
of  adequate  support,  it  was  discontinued.  The  undertaking 
was  without  doubt  too  ambitious.  It  has  been  estimated 
that  had  it  been  completed  on  the  scale  on  which  it  was 
begun,  it  would  have  extended  to  one  hundred  and  fifty 
volumes  equal  in  size  to  the  four  which  were  published.  It 
possessed  many  merits,  however,  and  in  such  points  as  the 
exact  quotation  of  authorities,  the  careful  orthography  of 
proper  names,  and  the  dated  bibliographical  lists  appended 
to  the  accounts  of  literary  men,  went  far  to  aid  the  work 
of  those  who  later  produced  the  Dictionary  of  National 
Biography.  We  may  doubt  whether  a  general  biographical 
dictionary  will  ever  be  produced  in  English  on  the  scale 
of  that  undertaken  by  Mr.  Long  and  his  associates.  Less 
need  for  such  a  work  is  felt  since  the  appearance  of  Dr. 
William  Smith's  Dictionary  of  Greek  and  Roman  Biography 
(1849),  and  Smith  and  Wace's  Dictionary  of  Christian 
Biography  (1877-87),  works  which  demonstrate  that 
English  scholarship  may  rank  with  that  of  any  other 
country. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  249 

The  nineteenth  century  witnessed  the  rise  of  dictionaries 
devoted  to  national  biography,  a  department  in  which  the 
English  were  slow  in  making  a  start.  Already  the  Swedish 
dictionary  (Biografiskt  Lexicon  ofver  Namnkunnige  Svenska 
Man)  had  been  projected  in  1835;  l^e  Dutch  (Biograph- 
ische  Woordenboek  der  Nederlanderi)  in  1852;  the  Austrian 
(Biogr aphis cbes  Lexicon  des  Kaiserthums  Oesterreich)  in 
1856;  the  Belgian  (Biogr aphie  Rationale  de  Belgique)  in 
1866;  and  the  German  (Allgemeine  Deutsche  Biogr  aphie) 
in  1875,  before  the  English  took  up  the  work  of  the  Die- 
tionary  of  National  Biography  in  1885.  The  delay,  it  may 
be  said,  has  been  of  advantage,  in  that  the  English  have 
been  able  to  profit  by  the  failures  and  successes  of  those 
who  preceded  them  in  such  labours.  Leslie  Stephen  who 
began  the  great  Dictionary,  and  Sir  Sidney  Lee  who 
brought  it  to  completion,  made  a  most  thorough  study  of 
the  principles  underlying  the  production  of  national 
biography;  Mr.  Lee,  in  particular,  has  succeeded  in  formu 
lating  these  principles,  and  we  may  now  read  the  story  of 
the  methods  which  have  combined  to  make  the  Dictionary 
of  National  Biography  the  best  work  of  its  class  produced 
in  any  language.1 

Most  of  the  early  biography  of  the  other  European 
countries  was  collective.  In  Spain,  Ferndn  Perez  de 
Guzman  (1378-1460),  sometimes  referred  to  as  "the 
Plutarch  of  Spain,"  wrote  between  1430  and  1454  his 
Generacionesy  Semblanzas,  a  work  which  comprises  sketches, 
rather  than  connected  narratives,  of  thirty-four  of  the 
principal  persons  of  his  time.  In  Italy,  the  fifteenth  century 

1  See  Leslie  Stephen's  "  National  Biography  "  in  Studies  of  a 
Biographer,  vol.  i.;  Lee's  "National  Biography"  in  the  Cornhill 
Magazine,  March  1896,  Principles  of  Biography,  and  "  At  a  Jour 
ney's  End  "  in  the  Nineteenth  Century  and  After  (December  1912)- 
together  with  the  prefaces,  etc.,  of  the  Dictionary  of  National 
Biography. 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

witnessed  the  rise  of  biography.  During  this  century 
Filippo  Villani  (d.  after  1404),  Vespasiano  da  Bistrici 
(1421-98),  and  Paolo  Giovio  (1483-1552),  wrought  their 
collections;  while  in  the  sixteenth  century  Giorgio  Vasari 
(1512-74)  produced  his  admirable  Lives  of  the  Artists. 
German  biography  has  little  to  show  before  the  latter  part 
of  the  eighteenth  century.  In  more  recent  times,  the  output 
of  separate  biography  in  France,  Spain,  Italy,  and  Ger- 
many  has  not  kept  pace  in  quantity  or  quality  with  that 
of  the  English  language.  Spain  has  produced  no  work  of 
international  importance;  Italy  has  produced  much 
biography  in  the  nineteenth  and  twentieth  centuries,  but 
nothing  of  the  highest  excellence;  Germany  has  plodded 
patiently,  but  with  no  commensurate  or  brilliant  success. 
Russia  is  only  beginning  to  produce  biography:  the  bio 
graphies  of  her  greatest  poets,  Pushkin  (1799-1837)  and 
Lermontov  (1811-41)  are  yet  virtually  unwritten,  as  are 
those  of  her  greatest  prose  writers.  Biryukov's  Life  of 
Tolstoi  perhaps  represents  the  highest  point  reached  thus 
far  by  Russian  biography.  M.  Rene  Valery-Radot's  Life 
of  Pasteur  is  typical  of  the  most  recent  French  lives. 

In  his  brief  essay  on  Biography ',  written  in  1832,  Carlyle 
somewhat  despondently  wrote :  "  May  it  not  seem  lament 
able  that  so  few  genuinely  good  biographies  have  yet 
accumulated  in  literature;  that  in  the  whole  world,  one 
cannot  find,  going  strictly  to  work,  above  some  dozen,  or 
baker's  dozen,  and  these  chiefly  of  very  ancient  date? 
Lamentable.  .  .  .  Another  question  might  be  asked:  How 
comes  it  that  in  England  we  have  simply  one  good  biography, 
this  Boswell's  Johnson  ;  and  of  good,  indifferent,  or  even 
bad  attempts  at  biography,  fewer  than  any  civilised 
people?  Consider  the  French  and  Germans,  with  their 
Moreris,  Bayles,  Jordenses,  Jochers,  their  innumerable 
Memoires,  and  Schilderungen,  and  Biographies  Univer- 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  251 

stiles ;  not  to  speak  of  Rousseaus,  Goethes,  Schubarts, 
Jung-Stillings:  and  then  contrast  with  these  our  poor 
Birches,  and  Kippises,  and  Pecks;  the  whole  breed  of  whom, 
moreover,  is  now  extinct!  "  This  wail  reminds  us  some 
what  of  the  cry  that  went  up  at  the  death  of  Wordsworth, 
the  cry  which  proclaimed  that  Poetry  was  dead,  that  the 
Throne  of  Poetry  was  vacant,  and  perhaps  permanently 
vacant.  And  the  results  in  both  cases  have  been  much  the 
same.  Within  four  years  after  Carlyle  had  penned  these 
words,  Lockhart  had  commenced  his  Life  of  Scott ;  within 
twenty  years,  Carlyle  himself  has  written  the  Life  of 
Sterling.  Within  fifty  years,  the  output  of  English  bio 
graphy,  in  both  quantity  and  quality,  was  unexcelled. 
There  was  no  longer  need  of  calling  up  the  names  of  Tom 
Birch,  Andrew  Kippis,  and  Francis  Peck.  Not  only  was 
their  breed  extinct,  it  had  been  succeeded  by  a  race  of 
giants.  During  the  last  half  of  the  nineteenth  century,  no 
language  surpassed  the  English  in  the  importance  and 
number  of  biographies  written  and  published. 


Already  self-commemoration  was  an  old  and  firmly- 
established  custom  in  the  world  when  autobiography  in  its 
first  simple  form  appeared  in  the  British  Islands,  as 
exemplified  by  the  brief  sketch,  already  mentioned,  which 
the  Venerable  Bede  attached  to  the  Ecclesiastical  History 
of  England  in  731  A.D.  It  is  doubtless  true  that  the  simplest 
form  of  autobiography,  the  mere  record  of  personal  prowess 
and  personal  deeds,  such  as  we  find  in  Egyptian  and 
Assyrian  inscriptions,  is  older  than  the  simplest  form  of 
biography.  The  ego  in  man  seems  to  have  developed  earlier 
than  man's  appreciation  of  the  personal  worth  of  his 
fellows.  Although,  beyond  doubt,  the  first  manifestation 
of  self-record  long  since  perished,  we  may  be  sure  that 


252  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

centuries  before  anything  that  can  be  called  European 
civilisation  appeared  the  habit  of  self-commemoration 
was  old,  just  as  the  form  and  habit  of  biography  was  old 
long  before  the  time  of  Plutarch.  Tacitus,  in  the  intro 
ductory  paragraphs  of  his  Life  of  Agricola,  not  only  refers 
to  biography  as  "  an  ancient  practice,"  but  also  affirms 
what  convinces  us  that  the  element  of  apology  so  prominent 
in  autobiography  is  likewise  of  ancient  origin;  namely, 
that  "  in  days  gone  by  ...  many  thought  that  to  write 
their  own  lives  showed  the  confidence  of  integrity,  rather 
than  presumption,"  and  assures  us  that  "  no  one  doubted 
the  honesty  or  questioned  the  motives  "  of  Rutilius  and 
Scaurus  in  writing  their  autobiographies.  Little  as  we 
know  definitely,  and  few  as  are  the  authentic  autobiographi 
cal  documents  remaining  to  us  from  the  earliest  historical 
ages,  we  yet  know  enough  to  convince  us  of  the  undoubted 
antiquity  of  self-commemoration,  and  of  the  comparative 
lateness  of  its  appearance  in  Britain. 

At  the  outset  of  an  historical  survey,  we  must  bear  in 
mind  that  autobiography  exists  in  two  forms:  the  one  a 
record  of  mere  objective  events;  the  other  a  record  of 
subjective  processes — a  history  of  the  development  of  the 
inner  life,  what  we  may  call  autobiography  par  excellence. 
The  objective  is  the  primitive  form,  the  form  which  takes 
us  back  to  the  borderland  of  history,  and  which  persists 
even  down  to  the  present  time.  The  subjective  form  is 
comparatively  modern,  its  first  appearance  dating  well 
within  the  earliest  centuries  of  the  Christian  era.  Late  as 
the  subjective  form  was  in  appearing,  it  has  surpassed  the 
older  form  in  both  completeness  of  development  and 
intrinsic  worth.  We  are  agreed  to-day  that  autobiography 
should  be  something  more  than  mere  impersonal  objective 
narrative  of  domestic  or  political  events.  We  are  insisting 
more  and  more  that  it  should  be  self-study,  a  history  of  the 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  253 

development  of  the  soul;  we  are  coming  to  recognise  that 
the  autobiography  which  is  worth  the  name  is  serious  and 
truthful  self-study.  To  such  serious  and  truthful  docu 
ments  psychologists  are  beginning  to  turn  for  material, 
We  may  therefore  dismiss  the  great  majority  of  early, 
objective  self-records  as  only  rude  attempts,  first  sketches, 
feelings  after  the  proper  form.  We  are  safe  in  concluding 
that  the  history  of  autobiography  begins  with  the  Christian 
era.  "  We  cannot  insist  too  strongly  that  autobiography 
as  we  know  it,  and  in  its  full  sense,  does  not  exist  before 
Christ.  .  .  .  The  great  religious  reformers  before  Christ 
contain  detached  passages  and  religious  moods  of  great 
subjectivity,  as  all  religious  leaders  must.  But  never,  in 
any  consecutive  manner,  does  Plato,  or  Confucius,  or 
Buddha,  or  any  leader  or  reformer  before  Jesus  Christ 
suggest  that  what  a  man  is,  is  more  important  than  what 
he  does  ;  or  that  duty  obliges  him  to  study  himself  with 
care  and  candour,  that  by  such  study  he  may  assist  other 
blind  creatures  like  himself."  l 

This  origin  of  really  important  autobiography  well 
within  authentic  historical  limits  makes  the  history  of  its 
development  not  difficult  to  trace.  The  continuity  of 
influence  exerted  by  the  works  of  autobiographers  of  the 
first  rank  is  practically  unbroken.  "  One  man  writes  of 
himself  because  another  writes;  personal  impressions  are 
repeated  in  a  practically  unbroken  chain.  Few,  if  any, 
important  autobiographies  have  been  lost,  and  this  is,  in 
itself,  an  illuminating  circumstance.  With  the  exception 
of  Sulla's  Commentaries,  whose  effect  upon  Caesar  was  noted 
by  his  contemporaries,  the  capital  autobiography  has 
survived,  and  preserved  its  fresh  effect  on  later  minds, 
more  than  any  other  type  of  literary  work."  a 

The  history  of  autobiography  carries  us  back  directly  to 
1  Burr,  The  Autobiography,  pp.  31-3.  *  Ibid.  p.  44. 


254  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

three  great  names,  Caesar,  Augustine,  and  Jerome  Cardan. 
The  powerful  influence  exerted  by  the  self-records  of  these 
men  has  left  its  impress  upon  all  succeeding  autobiographi 
cal  documents.  Caesar's  Commentaries  belongs,  of  course, 
to  the  objective  form;  in  truth,  at  the  present  time  the 
third-person  narrative  of  the  Roman  would  scarcely  be 
classed  as  autobiography.  Whatever  we  may  think  of  the 
Commentaries  to-day,  however,  we  must  admit,  after  due 
investigation,  that  this  work  has  "  inspired  later  auto 
biography  to  an  extent  almost  incalculable."  The  influence 
of  Caesar's  work  is  easily  and  directly  traceable.  Mrs.  Burr 
quotes  the  statement  of  Monluc,  "  Ce  grand  capitaine,  qui 
tst  Cesar,  rrfen  montre  le  chemin"  and  then  affirms  that 
Monluc  is  "  but  one  of  hundreds  to  whom  the  Roman  has 
shown  the  road,"  and  that  "  it  is  hard  to  find  a  single 
objective  historical  record  for  eight  hundred  years  which 
does  not  avow  that  its  inspiration  came  from  Caesar's 
Commentaries."  1 

We  have  already  remarked  that  the  history  of  subjective 
autobiography  begins  with  the  Christian  era.  It  is  in 
keeping  with  the  progress  of  human  thought  that,  of  the 
two  forms  in  which  such  subjective  narrative  manifests 
itself — the  religious  and  the  scientific — the  religious  came 
first.  In  the  Confessions  of  Augustine,  Bishop  of  Hippo 
(354-430  A.D.),  we  have  the  beginning  of  complex,  sub 
jective  autobiography  actuated  by  religious  emotion.  We 
may  dismiss  the  criticism  which  refers  to  it  as  only  "  a 
praise  and  confession  of  God's  unmerited  goodness."  It 
is  this,  to  be  sure;  but  it  is  far  more.  In  the  history  of 
confession  it  remains  a  most  important  document,  intro 
ducing  as  it  did  "  to  the  confession  proper  the  autobio 
graphical  intention  and  idea."  The  narrative  follows  a 

1  Burr,  The  Autobiography,  pp.  74-5.  See  also  the  reference  to 
Caesar  in  Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson,  Hill's  edition,  vol.  iii.  p.  195. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  255 

definitely  formulated  plan  of  self-study:  it  includes  the 
complete  history  of  the  subject,  the  sources  of  his  sin,  and 
the  progress  of  his  conversion-process.  "  Augustine  not 
only  taught  this  self-study  to  be  full  and  sincere,  but 
furnished  an  imperishable  classic  by  way  of  example,  and 
one  which  was  to  be  followed  by  the  most  enthusiastic 
imitation.  Through  him,  the  religious  record  became  the 
natural  means  of  expression  for  the  emotions  of  the  middle 
ages."  l  Sainte-Beuve  has  pointed  out  the  fact  that  down 
to  modern  times,  Augustine  has  exerted  an  influence  ,over 
all  types  of  the  creative  religious  mind;  that  he  was,  in  fact, 
"  a  great  empire  divided  among  distinguished  heirs."  * 
When  Petrarch,  "  the  first  of  modern  men,"  on  the  top  of 
Mont  Ventoux  opened  his  copy  of  the  Confessions  and 
fixed  his  eyes  upon  those  words  in  which  Augustine  says 
that  "  men  wonder  at  the  heights  of  the  mountains,  and  the 
mighty  waves  of  the  sea,  and  the  wide  sweep  of  rivers,  and 
the  circuit  of  the  ocean,  and  the  revolution  of  stars,  but 
themselves  they  consider  not,"  he  awoke  to  the  fact  "  that 
nothing  is  wonderful  but  the  soul;  "  and  forthwith  began 
"  to  turn  his  inward  eye  upon  himself."  In  that  passage 
of  one  of  his  familiar  letters  3  where  Petrarch  describes  this 
experience,  Mrs.  Burr  says,  "  the  world  may  almost  be  said 
to  come  of  age;  the  mind  of  man,  if  we  permit  Petrarch 
to  personify  it  for  us,  attains  maturity."  4  Of  such  monu- 

1  Burr,  Religious  Confessions  and  Confessants,  pp.  42-3.  See  also 
the  references  to  Augustine  in  Mrs.  Burr's  The  Autobiography;  in 
Windelband's  Geschichte  der  Philosophic  ;  and  C.  A.  Sainte-Beuve's 
Port-Royal. 

1  "  Saint  Augustin  est  comme  ces  grands  empires  qui  ne  se  trans- 
mettent  a  des  heritiers  m6me  illustres  qu'en  se  divivant.  M.  de 
Saint-Cyran,  Bossuet  et  Fenelon  (on  y  joindrait  aussi  sous  de 
certains  aspects  Malebranche)  peuvent  6tre  dits,  au  dix-septieme 
siecle,  d'admirables  demembrements  de  saint  Augustin." — Sainte 
Beuve,  Port-Royal,  vol.  i.  p.  421. 

*  Robinson  and  Rolfe,  Francesco  Petrarcha,  pp.  309-18. 

4  Religious  Confessions  and  Confessants,  p.  38. 


256  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

mental  significance  in  the  history  of  autobiography  is  the 
work  of  Augustine. 

The  second  or  scientific  type  of  subjective  autobio 
graphy  did  not  appear  until  the  sixteenth  century,  when, 
in  1575,  Jerome  Cardan  wrote  his  De  Vita  Propria  Liber. 
From  the  psychological  point  of  view  this  book  is  note 
worthy,  marking  as  it  does  the  beginning  of  a  new  era  in 
thought.  Mrs.  Burr  points  out  to  us  that  during  the  1145 
years  lying  between  the  death  of  Augustine  in  430,  and 
1575,  "  there  is  absolutely  no  trace  of  scientific  self-study," 
and  reminds  us  that  this  fact  should  help  us  to  realise 
*'  what  a  wholly  fresh  idea  came  to  the  Italian  physician 
when  he  set  about  examining  himself  £  as  if  he  were  a  new 
species  of  animal  which  he  never  expected  to  see  again.' ' 
She  thus  feels  justified  in  referring  to  the  book  as  one  "  of 
perfect  originality,"  a  work  that  "  contains  psychological 
data  which  have  awaited  the  birth  and  development  of  a 
special  branch  of  science  for  their  elucidation,"  and  further 
asserts  that  "  it  is  not  too  much  to  say  that  by  reason  of 
his  invention  of  the  principle  of  gathering  and  collecting 
personal  data,  Jerome  Cardan  stands  in  the  same  relation 
to  the  new  psychology  as  Galileo  to  astronomy.  .  .  .  He 
is  among  the  first  manifestations  of  what  we  term  the 
scientific  spirit;  he  is  in  the  forefront  of  that  new  order 
which  was  to  change  the  face  of  the  universe."  l 

From  this  psychological  or  subjective  point  of  view 
English  autobiography  was  slow  of  development.  Both 
Italy  and  France  had  contributed  largely  to  the  literature 
of  autobiography  long  before  anything  of  great  value  had 
appeared  in  English.  At  the  time  of  Richard  Vennar,  whose 
Apology  is  an  insignificant  bit  of  merely  objective  record, 
Cardan  and  Benvenuto  Cellini  were  writing  in  Italy; 
Monluc,  Marguerite  de  Valois,  and  the  Chroniclers  were 
1  The  Autobiography,  pp.  82-5. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  257 

flourishing  in  France.  Important  subjective  autobiography 
in  English  dates  from  comparatively  modern  times.  True 
to  the  general  world-trend  of  the  form,  the  work  of  George 
Fox  (1624-91),  the  "  first  capital  English  self-delineator," 
was  the  result  of  religious  emotion.  Lord  Herbert  of  Cher- 
bury,  whose  self-narrative  may  be  mentioned  along  with 
that  of  Fox,  was  likewise  interested  in  religious  questions, 
asserting  strangely  enough  that  he  published  his  De  Vcritatt, 
a  work  hostile  to  Christianity,  in  obedience  to  a  voice  from 
heaven  which  spoke  to  him  in  broad  daylight.  The  sub 
jective  autobiography  developed  but  slowly,  however; 
from  Fox  to  Gibbon  there  is,  in  English  literature,  a  notice 
able  deficiency  of  such  documents.  The  opening  chapter  of 
Edmund  Calamy's  An  Historical  Account  of  my  Own  Life 
shows  that,  during  this  interval,  there  was  no  lack  of  interest 
in  autobiography  on  the  part  of  educated  Englishmen.  In 
this  chapter  Calamy  enumerates  and  discusses  practically 
every  important  self-narrative  written  prior  to  1731.  It 
was  not,  therefore,  that  interest  was  lacking,  but  rather 
that  no  vital  modern  document  of  general  appeal  had  yet 
been  written;  no  stimulating  intellectual  movement  had 
begun.  Such  a  document,  such  a  movement,  came  soon 
after  Calamy  had  written  the  last  pages  of  the  Historical 
Account.  The  Confessions  of  Jean  Jacques  Rousseau  spoke 
to  men  just  as  the  storm  of  the  French  Revolution  was 
gathering.  Both  book  and  Revolution  stirred  England 
profoundly:  the  soil  of  men's  minds  was  ready  for  the  seed. 
Without  doubt,  the  strongest  direct  foreign  influence  on 
English  autobiography  was  that  exerted  by  Rousseau. 
Self-record  as  a  fashion  in  England  followed  as  a  result 
of  the  stimulating  quality  of  the  Confessions.  Soon 
Edward  Gibbon,  David  Hume,  and  Benjamin  Franklin 
were  writing  the  narratives  that  were  in  their  turn  to 
inspire  a  large  body  of  other  such  documents.  It  was 

X 


258  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

now  that  English  autobiography  began  to  rise  towards  its 
zenith. 

So  great  has  been  Rousseau's  influence  that  English 
critics  have  been  to  a  certain  extent  misled  into  referring 
to  him  as  the  first  autobiographer  of  any  consequence. 
"  They  invariably  refer  to  him  as  the  parent  of  the  whole 
introspective  crew,"  writes  Mrs.  Burr.  In  this  connexion, 
Leslie  Stephen's  remarks  may  be  quoted  as  typical:  Mr. 
Stephen  writes  that  "  the  prince  of  all  autobiographers  in 
the  full  sense  of  the  word — the  man  who  represents  the 
genuine  type  in  its  fullest  realisation — is  undoubtedly 
Rousseau  .  .  .  the  type  of  all  autobiographers;  and  for 
the  obvious  reason  that  no  man  ever  turned  himself  inside 
out  for  the  inspection  of  posterity  so  completely." l 
Rousseau,  indeed,  ignorantly  or  with  deliberate  intention, 
would  have  us  believe  that  he  was  an  innovator;  that  he 
was  undertaking  a  task  not  only  without  precedent,  but 
beyond  successful  imitation.2  We  know  to-day,  however, 
that  the  Confessions  only  gave  fresh  stimulus  and  new  life 
to  the  old  movement  successively  contributed  to  by  Caesar, 
Augustine,  and  Cardan;  that,  in  particular,  the  work  but 
continued  the  scientific  method  begun  by  Cardan.  We  know 
that  Rousseau  scarcely  surpasses,  if  he  does  surpass,  the 
completeness  with  which  Cardan  "  turned  himself  inside 
out  for  the  inspection  of  posterity."  We  need  not  for  these 
reasons  disparage  the  work  which  he  did;  for,  notwith 
standing  the  fact  that  it  was  but  a  manifestation  of  an  old 
movement,  it  yet  furnished  the  fresh  and  vital  inspiration 
to  England,  where  subjective  autobiography  had  been 
limited  to  the  religious  type.  It  is  necessary  to  bear  in 
mind,  however,  that  Rousseau,  as  a  scientific  subjective 

1  Hours  in  a  Library,  vol.  iii.  pp.  242-51. 

a  "  Je  forme  une  entreprise  qui  n'eut  jamais  d'exemple,  et  qui 
n'aura  point  d'imitateur,"  are  the  words  which  form  the  opening 
sentence  of  the  Confessions. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  259 

autobiographer,  was  but  a  follower  in  a  work  in  which 
Jerome  Cardan  was  the  great  pioneer. 

Rousseau's  Confessions,  therefore,  while  the  immediate 
stimulus  to  English  autobiographers,  came  merely  as  a 
continuation  of  the  Cardan  method.  The  influence  of 
Cardan  must  not,  however,  be  thought  of  as  only  a  second 
ary  influence,  exerted  largely  or  only  through  the  medium 
of  Rousseau;  it  was  also  a  direct  influence,  and  it  is 
written  largely  upon  English  as  upon  all  other  autobio 
graphy.  In  Italy,  Alfieri  and  Vico;  in  France,  George 
Sand  and  Rousseau;  in  England,  Edward  Gibbon  and 
David  Hume,  followed  the  Cardan  method.  During  the 
seventeenth  and  eighteenth  centuries  such  men  as  Huet, 
Robert  Burton,  and  Sir  Thomas  Browne  referred  to  the 
De  Vita  Propria  Liber  "  as  among  the  great  intellectual 
influences  of  their  lives."  As  the  dominance  of  the  Latin 
language  declined  in  England,  the  great  book  of  Cardan  was 
well-nigh  forgotten,  and  ceased  to  exert  its  former,  direct 
influence.  The  disciples  of  the  Italian  physician,  however, 
whether  they  came  under  his  influence  at  first  hand  or  at 
second,  have  been  intellectual  leaders.  It  is  important  for 
us  to  remember  that  "  the  entire  group  of  modern  English 
scientists  write  their  lives  in  the  scientific  or  Cardan 
manner " ;  that  Herbert  Spencer,  whose  Autobiography 
forms  "  the  culminating  achievement  of  scientific  self- 
delineation,"  gives  as  his  reason  for  writing  substantially 
the  same  as  that  given  by  Cardan.  It  is  a  matter  of  regret 
that  there  is  as  yet  no  English  translation  of  so  important 
a  work.1 

The  Italians  have  produced  the  greatest  number  of 
important  autobiographies  of  the  subjective  type.  Those 

1  It  is  to  be  hoped  that  Mrs.  Burr,  who  has  already  done  so  much 
to  point  out  the  value  of  Cardan's  work,  will  give  us  an  English 
version  of  the  De  Vita  Propria  Liber. 


2<5o  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

of  Alfieri,  Goldoni,  Querini,  Cardan,  and  Cellini,  together 
with  "  the  marvellously  perfect  fragments  "  of  Lorenzino  de 
Medici,  Vico,  Chiabrera,  Leopardi,  Petrarch,  and  Giusti, 
bear  witness  to  the  extent  and  value  of  the  Italian  con 
tribution  to  documents  of  high  psychological  importance. 
Mrs.  Burr  finds  that  "  the  crowning  glory  "  of  the  Italian 
autobiographer  consists  in  "  his  ability  to  distinguish 
between  emotion,  sentiment,  and  fact."  She  calls  our 
attention  to  the  fact  that  a  reader  is  never  left  in  doubt  as 
to  what  Benvenuto  Cellini  was  doing,  as  apart  from  what 
he  was  feeling;  that  Cardan  carefully  differentiates  his  fear, 
affectation,  and  superstition  from  his  acts,  opinions,  and 
accomplishment;  that  in  Alfieri's  struggle  for  self-control 
he  does  not  confuse  what  actually  happened,  what  people 
thought,  and  what  Alfieri  thought.  "  This  extraordinary 
combination  of  high  capacity  and  emotion  with  a  scientific 
method,"  writes  Mrs.  Burr  in  conclusion,  "  is  not  to  be 
found  in  other  literatures  to  anything  like  the  same  degree."  * 

The  French  have  produced  autobiographies  in  far  greater 
number  and  variety  than  have  the  Italians.  It  is  to  France 
that  we  must  turn  for  the  first  self-narrative  written  by  a 
woman,  the  work  of  Marguerite  de  Valois  (d.  1549).  The 
value  of  the  French  contribution  lies  rather  in  the  literary 
quality  of  the  work  produced  than  in  the  important 
psychological  element;  from  the  beginning  the  French 
memoire  has  been  "  a  literary  creation  rather  than  a 
scientific  document."  French  minds  seem  to  be  adapted  to 
self-study;  they  are  "  turned  inward  upon  personalities — 
theirs  is  the  aspect  conscient"  In  this  fact  Mrs.  Burr  finds 
one  of  the  reasons  why  French  autobiography  surpasses 
the  English. 

While  the  Germans  have  produced  much  autobiography, 
they  have  given  us  nothing  of  worth  from  the  psychological 
1  The  Autobiography,  pp.  198-9. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  261 

point  of  view.  Mrs.  Burr  devotes  no  section  of  7 'he  Auto 
biography  to  the  German  contribution,  for  the  reason  that 
she  found  it  "  psychologically  valueless."  In  her  opinion, 
the  chief  cause  of  that  partial  or  defective  sincerity  which 
leads  to  a  lower  value  in  any  autobiography  is  the  senti 
mental  point  of  view;  and  this  "  mental  habit  of  confusing 
fact  with  sentiment  "  pervades  German  autobiographies. 
Whether  we  take  up  the  self-narratives  of  Richter,  Kotzebue, 
Stilling,  Lavater,  Karoline  Bauer,  or  George  Ebers,  or  those 
of  Hans  Andersen  and  Louis  Holberg,  we  find  the  same 
defect.  It  is  not  that  the  works  are  uninteresting,  or,  in 
their  way,  uninstructive;  it  is  rather  that  "sentiment, 
the  sentimental  attitude  towards  what  concerns  oneself, 
hangs  like  a  hazy  cloud  over  the  narrative,  obscuring  facts, 
distorting  experience."  It  is  when  we  compare  German 
autobiographies  with  those  of  Italy  and  France,  that  we 
realise  the  defect  to  the  full.  "  The  emotion  which  was 
heightened  to  passion  in  Italy,  and  clipped,  drilled,  for 
malised  to  a  cult  of  sentiment  in  France,  has  spread  over 
the  German  pages  a  smudge  of  sentimentality,  besmearing, 
hiding,  all  it  touches."  l 

Goethe's  Dichtung  und  Wahrheit,  as  by  far  the  greatest 
of  German  autobiographies,  exemplifies  the  failure  most 
clearly.  George  Henry  Lewes,  while  admitting  that  the 
work  has  charm,  remarks  that  it  is  "  scarcely,  if  at  all, 
the  kind  which  belongs  to  autobiography  ";  he  pronounces 
it  only  an  "  approximation  to  autobiography,"  in  that  it 
lacks  "  the  precise  detail,  and  above  all  the  direct  eloquent 
egotism  which  constitutes  the  value  and  the  interest  of 
such  works."  In  writing  Goethe's  Life,  Lewes  says  that  he 
found  the  Dichtung  und  Wahrheit  as  much  of  a  stumbling- 
block  as  a  stepping-stone.  "  The  main  reason  for  this," 
he  asserts,  "  was  the  abiding  inaccuracy  of  tone,  which,  far 
1  Burr.  The  Autobiography,  pp.  207-8. 


262  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

more  misleading  than  the  many  inaccuracies  of  fact,  gives 
to  the  whole  youthful  period,  as  narrated  by  him,  an  aspect 
so  directly  contrary  to  what  is  given  by  contemporary 
evidence,  especially  his  own  letters,  that  an  attempt  to 
reconcile  the  contradiction  is  futile  .  .  .  the  tone  of  the 
autobiography,  wherein  the  old  man  depicts  the  youth  as 
the  old  man  saw  him,  not  as  the  youth  felt  and  lived.  The 
picture  of  youthful  follies  and  youthful  passions  come 
softened  through  the  distant  avenue  of  years.  The  tur 
bulence  of  a  youth  of  genius  is  not  indeed  quite  forgotten, 
but  it  is  hinted  with  stately  reserve.  Jupiter  serenely 
throned  upon  Olympus  forgets  that  he  was  once  a  rebel 
with  the  Titans."  1  Mrs.  Burr  has  no  hesitancy  in  pro 
nouncing  it  "  the  weakest  autobiography  the  world  has 
ever  had  from  so  strong  a  hand,"  and  affirms  that  "  enthu 
siasts  over  it  are  almost  invariably  to  be  found  among 
those  persons  who  think  a  sincere  self-revelation  per 
nicious  and  undesirable."  2 


One  rises  from  a  comparative  study  of  biography  with  a 
feeling  of  admiration  for  the  work  accomplished  by  English 
authors,  and  with  an  enduring  conviction  that  the  accom 
plishment  of  the  past  is  but  an  earnest  of  the  future.  The 
writers  of  biography  in  English  have  succeeded  better  than 
those  in  any  other  language  in  approximating  the  ideal  of 
portraying  faithfully  the  development  of  a  soul.  The  lan 
guage  that  has  produced  Walton's  Lives,  Johnson's  Lives 
of  the  Poets,  Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson,  Lockhart's  Life  of 
Scott,  Carlyle's  Life  of  Sterling,  Froude's  Life  of  Carlyle,  and 
Allen's  Life  of  Phillips  Brooks,  together  with  the  autobio 
graphies  of  Franklin,  Hume,  Gibbon,  Mill,  Ruskin,  Spencer, 

1  Life  of  Goethe,  Preface  (Second  Edition). 
8  The  Autobiography,  pp.  68-9. 


A  COMPARATIVE  VIEW  263 

and  Mrs.  Oliphant,  may  well  invite  the  closest  comparative 
inspection.  To  be  sure,  English  biographers  have  profited 
by  close  study  of  the  biography  of  other  nations,  especially 
by  a  study  of  the  classic  examples;  they  are  and  have  been 
glad  to  be  "  the  heirs  of  all  the  ages."  It  nevertheless 
remains  true  that  whatever  they  have  seen  fit  to  borrow, 
they  have  amplified  and  improved.  They  found  the  bio 
graphical  literature  of  the  world  meagre  and  undeveloped; 
they  left  it,  largely  as  a  result  of  their  own  labour  and 
example,  rich  and  full. 


264  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


CHAPTER  XI 

ENGLISH    BIOGRAPHY   AS    LITERATURE 

MANY  definitions  of  literature  have  been  attempted;  but, 
like  many  another  term  in  common  use,  the  word  is  not 
only  difficult,  it  is  well-nigh  impossible,  to  define.  We 
may,  however,  accept  a  definition  which,  if  not  logically 
perfect,  is  yet  suggestive.  Let  us  say  that  literature  is  the 
record  of  the  best  thought  of  a  race  expressed  in  such  artistic 
form  as  to  inspire  and  elevate  the  soul.  In  this  sense,  the 
mere  record  of  positive  knowledge  does  not  constitute 
literature.  There  is  a  mystic  borderland  where  mere 
expression  of  thought  merges  into  the  pure  gold  of  litera 
ture;  we  recognise  the  result  if  we  cannot  analyse  the 
process.  We  recognise  beneath  all  true  literature  the 
tremendous,  yet  subtile  and  restrained,  force  of  imagina 
tion;  we  recognise  the  qualities  of  beauty  and  of  power; 
beauty  that  is  not  mere  external  ornament,  but  a  part  of 
the  substance;  power  that  is  dependent  not  on  any  one 
clement,  but  upon  a  union  of  all.  If  we  think  of  literature 
as  necessarily  founded  upon  imagination,  as  possessing 
these  qualities  of  beauty  of  form  and  expression  resulting  in 
the  power  to  inspire  and  elevate  humanity,  then  English 
biography  from  its  earliest  dawn  must  be  classed  as  litera 
ture  in  ever-increasing  measure. 

Its  development  as  a  department  of  letters  was  greatly 
retarded,  of  course,  by  its  being  considered  only  a  branch  of 
history.  It  was  long  kept  out  of  its  true  kingdom.  A  hand 
maiden  to  both  history  and  literature,  its  own  peculiar 
virtues  were  for  many  years  overlooked  and  neglected. 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE  265 

Biography  did  not  fully  assert  its  independence  until  the 
last  years  of  the  eighteenth  century.  It  is  only  in  recent 
times  that  histories  of  literature  have  recognised  the  claims 
of  biography  to  equal  rank  with  other  forms  of  prose.  We 
have  accepted  the  poetry  and  the  prose  of  English  authors, 
and  have  been  content  to  consult  biographies  for  the 
details  of  their  lives;  we  have  looked  upon  these  life- 
records,  in  the  main,  as  mere  storehouses  of  information. 
We  have  scarcely  deigned  to  acknowledge  that  these  same 
biographies  may  also  be  literature  of  a  high  order. 

The  literary  value  of  much  biography  has  been  marred 
by  a  too  great  insistence  upon  the  ethical  purpose.  It  is 
the  old  defect,  a  defect  as  old,  at  least,  as  Plutarch.  From 
the  time  of  Adamnan  to  the  middle  of  the  nineteenth 
century,  and  even  later,  English  biography  has  been  made 
to  serve  an  ethical  purpose.  There  has  been  far  too  much 
insistence  by  writers  of  the  form  upon  the  fact  that  "  bio 
graphy  conveys  useful  instruction";  that  "it  sets  before 
us  the  lives  of  eminent  men,  that  we  may  imitate  their 
virtues  or  avoid  their  vices."  l  The  mental  habit  of  con 
sidering  biography  in  this  light  has  led  on  the  one  hand  to 
the  production  of  fulsome  panegyric;  on  the  other,  to 
malicious  diatribe.  So  long  as  biography  is  looked  upon 
simply  as  a  medium  through  which  to  convey  "  useful 
information  "  for  the  sake  of  ethics,  so  long  is  it  kept  from 
its  own  true  mission.  Biography  must  be  allowed  to  stand 
or  fall  of  itself.  Let  it  but  relate  faithfully  the  history  of  a 
human  soul,  without  any  warping  of  the  truth  for  purposes 
either  of  panegyric  or  invective;  let  it  but  place  before  us 
a  true  narrative,  without  any  straining  for  effect  or  any 
drawing  of  a  moral,  and  it  will  not  fail  to  speak  to  us  clearly 
and  influence  us  powerfully.  "  If  my  portrait  of  her  is 
correct,"  writes  George  Herbert  Palmer  in  his  Life  of  Alice 
1  Burdy,  Life  of  Shelton,  p.  9,  Oxford  edition. 


266  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Freeman  Palmer,  "  invigoration  will  go  forth  from  it  and 
disheartened  souls  be  cheered."  l  It  was  chiefly  because 
Mr.  Palmer  recognised  that  such  a  result  was  secondary  to 
the  main  purpose  that  he  achieved  success.  Great  poems  do 
not  labour  to  draw  morals,  although  they  contain  morals. 
All  works  of  art  are  shorn  of  their  power  when  men  attempt 
to  reduce  them  to  slavery  rather  than  allow  them  to  assert 
their  sovereignty.  Works  of  art  cease  to  be  works  of  art 
when  they  carry  about  upon  them  the  chains  of  any 
tyrannical  influence.  A  work  of  art  must  be  as  free  and 
sovereign  as  the  Truth,  of  which,  indeed,  it  is  but  a  part 
and  a  manifestation.  At  last,  men  are  beginning  to  write 
biographies  which  are  works  of  art,  constructed  according 
to  truthful  principles — biographies  that  speak  the  truth, 
not  glossing  over  a  fault  lest  morality  may  be  outraged; 
nor  enlarging  upon  a  virtue  in  order  to  inculcate  some 
"  useful  "  lesson ;  nor  yet  magnifying  a  sin  in  order  to 
make  vice  hideous.  Without  question,  such  biographies 
will  be  "  fruitful  in  lessons,  stimulants  to  a  noble  ambition, 
the  armouries  wherein  are  gathered  the  weapons  with  which 
great  battles  are  fought  ";  2  and  they  will  be  such  because 
they  relate  truthfully  what  men  have  been  and  what  they 
have  done;  and  consequently  such  narratives  will  thrill 
the  soul  of  every  true  man  and  woman.  At  the  same  time, 
such  biographies  will  attain  unto  the  full  rank  of  literature. 
From  the  beginning,  we  have  said,  English  biography  has 
been  worthy,  at  least  in  part,  to  be  classed  as  literature. 
In  the  long  period  extending  from  690  to  the  discontinuance 
on  the  one  hand  of  English  biography  written  in  Latin,  and, 
on  the  other,  of  biography  as  exemplified  by  saints'  lives, 
we  find  much  that  deserves  the  name  of  literature.  The 
whole  of  the  last  chapter  of  Adamnan's  Life  of  St.  Columba 
lingers  in  our  minds  like  the  softened  strains  of  a  great 
»  P.  4.  2  Adapted  from  Lewes,  Life  of  Goethe,  p.  i. 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE  267 

cathedral  organ.  The  Venerable  Bede's  account  of  St. 
Cuthbert's  death,  together  with  many  passages  in  the  Lives 
of  the  Abbots  of  the  Monasteries  of  Wearmouth  and  J arrow, 
strike  similar  responsive  chords  in  our  hearts.  In  Eddius' 
Life  of  Wilfrid  we  catch  the  power  of  a  strong  and  turbulent 
soul,  undaunted  by  assemblies  or  kings;  in  the  Magna 
Vita  of  St.  Hugh  we  feel  the  different  power  of  a  humbler, 
gentler  life.  The  stories  of  Anselm  and  of  Becket  reveal  to 
us  the  sweet  humanity  of  a  consecrated  life  and  the  daunt 
less  courage  of  a  steadfast  purpose.  The  narratives  just 
named  are  the  greater  types  of  a  numerous  class  which  con 
tains  many  passages  that  cause  us  to  glow  with  admiration 
for  the  bravery  and  devotion  of  early  churchmen;  that 
humble  our  pride  as  we  learn  of  the  humility  of  the  great; 
that  come  to  us  out  of  the  past  as  trumpet  calls  to  duty. 
They  are  written  in  a  foreign  tongue,  but  not  even  the  garb 
of  a  Latin  idiom  none  too  well  expressed  can  conceal  the 
beauty  of  the  thought.  These  passages  stand  one  sure  test  of 
great  literature — the  test  of  translation.  From  the  tomb  of 
mediaeval  Latinity  to  a  modern  English  resurrection,  their 
beauty  arises  undimmed.  Nor  must  we  forget  all  the  wealth 
of  quaintness  and  humour  and  whimsicality  with  which  the 
English  verse  lives  abound. 

At  first  thought,  we  should  scarcely  expect  to  find  a 
literary  quality  in  the  works  of  the  antiquarians  and  com 
pilers.  We  are  not  accustomed  to  thinking  of  alphabetical 
and  chronological  compilations  in  terms  of  literature.  Yet 
not  even  during  this  prosaic  period  of  biographical  develop 
ment  could  the  English  genius  be  entirely  eclipsed.  It  may 
be  that  the  searcher  needs  to  carry  with  him  a  strongly 
expectant  and  unusually  sympathetic  spirit  to  find  the 
pearls;  at  any  rate,  the  pearls  are  there.  One  is  repaid  for 
turning  through  the  dusty  Latin  pages  even  of  Leland, 
Bale,  Pits,  and  their  successors.  Now  and  then  one  chances 


268  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

upon  such  narratives  as  Thomas  Dempster  has  written  of 
himself.  The  reward  is  increasingly  greater  as  one  turns  to 
Anthony  Wood  and  Thomas  Fuller.  In  all  of  these  indus 
trious  mortals  there  are  occasional  touches  of  originality; 
flashes  of  humour;  displays  of  primitive  emotion — religious 
and  race  hatred,  superstition,  blind  fear;  there  are  records 
of  beliefs  now  discarded.  That  strong  current  of  humanity, 
which  like  a  mighty  subterranean  river  runs  beneath  the 
lives  of  all  men — even  of  antiquarians  and  compilers,  who 
are  usually  considered  the  most  "  dry-as-dust  "  of  mortals 
— could  not  be  entirely  suppressed.  It  is  most  clearly 
evident,  in  its  best  form,  in  the  biographical  works  of 
Thomas  Fuller.  The  Abel  Redevivus  and  the  Worthies  will 
never  disappoint,  if  one  only  approaches  them  in  the  right 
mood;  nor  need  any  of  the  others  which  occupy  the  same 
shelf.  There  is  a  place  in  the  great  biographical  firmament 
even  for  the  least  of  these  names.  May  we  not  adapt  the 
words  of  "  Master  Quarles,  father  or  son,"  and  say  that,  if 
not  as  great  lights,  at  least  as  small  ones,  the  antiquarians 

and  compilers  may 

"  fairly  shine 
Within  this  Skie  of  lustrious  Starres  "; 

and  that  even  if  their  shining  is  dim  and  uncertain  it  is  also 
true  that 

"  Thus,  O  thus  oft  Sol's  rayes  most  rare, 
With  duskie  clouds  ecclipsed  are?  "  l 

After  the  beginning  of  biography  written  in  the  English 
language  and  before  the  publication  of  BoswelPs  Johnson 
there  were  produced  a  number  of  works — not  many  to  be 
sure — which  are  entitled  to  rank  as  almost  pure  literature; 
that  is,  they  have  in  themselves  a  literary  quality  of  such 
value  as  to  make  them  contributions  to  literature,  as  great 
as  are  the  facts  which  they  contain  to  literary  history. 
1  From  verses  on  Berengarius  in  Abel  Redevivus,  pp.  7-8. 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE  269 

Their  rank  as  literature,  in  short,  is  well-nigh  independent 
of  their  worth  as  historical  documents.1  Such  narratives  as 
Roper's  More,  Cavendish's  Wolsey,  the  five  of  Walton's 
Lives,  John  Evelyn's  Life  of  Margaret  Godolphin,  Gold 
smith's  biographical  sketches,  and  most  of  Johnson's  Lives 
of  the  Poets,  belong  to  this  class.  These  examples  show 
what  was  true  of  English  biography  as  literature  until 
Boswell's  day,  that  the  literary  quality  was  due  rather  to 
the  writer  of  the  narrative  than  to  the  kind  of  materials 
with  which  he  worked.  We  can  call  no  one  of  the  works 
just  enumerated  an  authoritative,  complete  biography 
wrought  from  full  and  exhaustive  materials — materials  of 
great  literary  excellence  upon  which  the  author  leaned 
heavily.  Most  of  them  belong  to  the  incomplete  sketch 
type.  All  of  them,  however,  bear  the  unmistakable  stamp 
of  personality — the  personality  of  the  writer.  They  are 
great  literary  productions  because  their  authors  possessed 
great  literary  ability.  In  any  lesser  hands  they  would  have 
been  dull  and  commonplace;  we  might  value  them  for  the 
facts  which  they  contain,  but  we  should  never  cherish  them 

1  In  this  connexion  Edward  Dowden's  excellent  words  must  not 
be  omitted:  "  There  are  two  kinds  of  written  lives  of  men  which 
deserve  to  remain  amongst  us  as  enduring  and  faithful  monuments. 
There  is  the  rare  and  fortunate  work  of  genius;  this  in  its  origin  is 
related  to  imagination  and  creative  power  as  closely  as  to  judgment 
and  observation ;  we  can  hardly  pronounce  whether  it  be  the  child 
of  Memory,  or  of  her  daughters,  the  Muses,  for  it  is  at  once  a  perfect 
work  of  art  and  an  infallible  piece  of  history.  It  portrays  the  man, 
in  few  lines  or  many,  but  in  lines  each  one  indispensable  and  each 
characteristic ;  it  may  seem  to  tell  little,  yet  in  fact  it  tells  all ;  from 
such  a  biographer  no  secrets  are  withholden,  nor  does  he  need  many 
diaries,  letters,  and  reminiscences  of  friends;  he  knows  as  much 
about  the  man  he  undertakes  to  speak  of  as  Shakespeare  knew  about 
Hamlet,  or  Titian  about  his  magnificoes — that  is,  everything.  Mr. 
Carlyle's  Life  of  Sterling  was  perhaps  the  last  volume  placed  on  the 
narrow  shelf  containing  the  biographies  in  all  languages  which 
belong  to  this  class.  But  there  is  also  what  we  could  ill  lose,  the 
work  of  knowledge,  and  labour,  and  patience,  and  zeal,  and  studious 
discrimination,  and  enforced  impartiality." — Studies  in  Literature 
(first  series),  p.  159. 


270  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

for  the  genius  which  they  reflect.  Works  of  this  high 
quality  are  few,  since  there  are  few  who  are  capable  of  pro 
ducing  them.  Present-day  methods  of  biography,  more 
over,  make  less  demand  upon  the  sheer  literary  skill  of  the 
biographer;  to-day  a  large  part — in  most  cases  by  far  the 
larger  part — of  the  material  used  is  furnished  by  the  sub 
ject  of  the  narrative;  in  consequence,  the  literary  skill 
demanded  in  the  production  of  a  Life  is  less  the  skill 
of  unbroken  narrative,  and  more  the  skill  of  artistic 
construction,  of  selection  and  rejection,  of  judgment  and 
taste. 

Boswell  it  was  who  firmly  established  the  custom  of 
using  the  letters  and  all  other  available  documents  of  the 
subject  of  biography.  With  the  admission  of  these  docu 
ments  came  the  shifting  of  the  burden  of  responsibility  for 
the  literary  quality :  the  biographer  was  no  longer  entirely 
dependent  upon  himself;  he  could  now  turn  to  the  materials 
left  by  the  subject — to  letters,  diaries,  reminiscences,  frag 
ments  of  autobiography — and  by  subjecting  these  to  a 
rigid  selective  examination,  could  from  them  construct  an 
artistic  whole.  Letters  especially  have  gone  far  to  add  to  the 
literary  quality  of  most  great  biographies;  in  themselves 
one  of  the  oldest  forms  of  literature,  they  have  never  failed 
when  chosen  with  taste  and  judgment  to  add  their  own  rare 
flavour  to  life-narrative.  Notwithstanding  the  importance 
of  documents,  they  endanger  the  very  quality  which  they 
most  improve:  they  make  great  demands  upon  the  skill  of 
the  biographer.  What  might  easily  have  been  a  work  of  art 
is  frequently  allowed  to  degenerate  into  a  mere  hodge 
podge.  "  The  mere  collocation  of  all  documents  "  does  not 
result  in  a  finished  literary  product.  It  is  possible,  there 
fore,  as  frequent  failures  bear  witness,  for  rich  materials  in 
the  hands  of  an  unskilful  biographer  to  yield  poor  results. 
To  work  with  materials  of  great  literary  value  a  biographer 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE  271 

need  not  necessarily  be  a  facile  composer;  he  does  need, 
however,  to  be  a  man  of  most  discriminating  judgment — 
he  must  be  able  to  recognise  literature  when  he  encounters 
it,  and  must  have  the  power  to  select  and  arrange  with  the 
utmost  skill.  Lockhart's  Scott,  Froude's  Carlyle,  Trevelyan's 
Macaulay,  and  Allen's  Phillips  Brooks,  to  name  only  a  few, 
are  examples  wherein  the  literary  quality  of  the  documents 
left  by  the  subjects  has  been  accentuated  by  the  skill  of 
the  biographer.  Such  typical  works  as  Carlyle's  Sterling, 
Eliot's  John  Gilley  (although  but  a  brief  sketch),  and 
Palmer's  Alice  Freeman  Palmer  help  us  to  see,  on  the  other 
hand,  the  extent  to  which  the  literary  quality  is  due  almost 
wholly  to  the  biographer.  The  history  of  English  biography 
shows  that  there  are  almost  as  few  great  biographers  with 
literary  judgment  and  architectonic  skill  as  there  are  of 
those  great  because  they  possess  in  themselves  the  power 
to  produce  literature  redolent  of  their  own  commanding 
personalities. 

Thus  we  do  not  have  many  names  to  match  with  those 
of  Roper,  Cavendish,  Walton,  Evelyn,  Goldsmith,  and 
Johnson.  To  keep  them  company  we  may  select  from  those 
no  longer  living  the  names  of  Boswell,  Lockhart,  Stanley, 
Lewes,  Froude,  and  Allen;  of  others  there  are  none  worthy 
to  move  in  the  same  company.  A  host  of  writers  who  have 
tried  to  perpetuate  the  memory  of  some  little  krown 
person  demonstrate  the  great  powers  necessary  for  success 
in  such  undertakings.  Since  the  publication  of  the  Life  of> 
Sterling,  George  Herbert  Palmer's  Life  of  Alice  Freeman 
Palmer  is  almost  the  only  biography  entirely  worthy  of  a 
place  upon  the  shelf  next  to  Carlyle's  great  work.  We  are 
best  able  to  appreciate  the  literary  quality  of  Boswell, 
Lockhart,  and  Froude  when  we  compare  them  with  lesser 
works  constructed  from  materials  left  by  the  subjects  of 
biography.  Hayley  and  Moore,  for  example,  each  working 


272  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

with  the  best  of  literary  materials,  help  us  to  appreciate  not 
only  how  easy  it  is  to  miss  the  way,  but  how  great  is  the 
triumph  when  the  way  has  been  followed  to  success. 

There  is  nothing  whatever  remarkable  about  the  fact 
that  there  are  few  biographies  in  the  English  language  of 
high  literary  quality.  In  common  with  all  other  forms  of 
literature,  the  highest  excellence  in  this  particular  form  is 
rare.  In  common,  too,  with  all  other  forms,  even  the  best 
biography  is  not  all  good,  but  is  good  only  in  parts.  These 
parts  have  increased  in  number  as  the  entire  body  of 
English  literature  has  widened  and  deepened.  Particularly 
has  the  literary  quality  of  biography  increased  as  English 
prose  style  has  developed.  We  have  only  to  examine  the 
body  of  biography  produced  before  Johnson  and  Goldsmith 
and  that  produced  after  them  to  convince  ourselves  of  this. 
The  style  of  most  biographies  written  before  1740  is 
unattractive;  one  derives  little  pleasure  from  the  mere 
act  of  reading.  After  Johnson  and  Goldsmith  made  their 
contribution,  the  style  yields  pleasure.  To-day,  although 
biographies  are  written  rapidly,  and  the  output  militates 
against  high  literary  excellence,  few  of  them  are  difficult 
to  read;  the  style  of  the  best  is  uniformly  good. 

The  literary  quality  of  autobiography  quite  naturally 
depends  entirely  upon  the  writer.  The  entire  production, 
in  substance,  form,  tone,  and  style,  is  woven  out  of  the 
inner  consciousness  of  the  autobiographer.  The  charm  and 
beauty  of  this  form,  therefore,  is  most  evident  when  a  great 
mind  freely  and  unaffectedly  unfolds  itself.  For  this  reason, 
the  great  bulk  of  mere  objective  autobiography  is  almost 
wholly  lacking  in  literary  excellence.  Such  excellence  per 
vades  the  great  subjective  records;  we  find  it  in  greater  or 
less  degree  in  the  self -narratives  of  Gibbon,  Hume,  Franklin, 
Brydges,  De  Quincey,  Mill,  Ruskin,  Mrs.  Oliphant,  Lucy 
Larcom,  and  many  others.  We  find  it  less  common  in  the 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE  273 

purely  scientific  autobiographies  such  as  those  of  Herbert 
Spencer,  Charles  Darwin,  and  Alfred  Russel  Wallace. 

It  is  perhaps  true  that  the  increasing  tendency  of  English 
biography  towards  great  length  is  lessening  the  literary 
quality.  Of  course,  there  is  "  a  glory  of  the  long  and  a 
glory  of  the  short  ";  but,  other  things  being  equal,  it  is 
usually  more  difficult  to  produce  an  excellent  short  work 
than  an  excellent  long  one.  The  short  work  demands  the 
exercise  of  sound  judgment,  cultivated  taste,  relentless 
rejection  of  all  that  is  not  absolutely  indispensable.  It 
requires  that  the  writer  shall  assimilate  his  material;  that 
he  shall  know  much  and  know  it  well,  in  order  that  he  may 
tell  the  little  which  contains  the  essence  of  all.  Such  a 
work  has  all  the  strength  and  simplicity  of  a  Greek  temple  : 
everything  is  in  proportion;  there  is  not  a  superfluous 
feature;  there  is  the  beauty  of  straight-line  effects.  The 
long  biography,  on  the  other  hand,  although  now  and  then 
wrought  with  similar  skill,  usually  impresses  us  by  its  very 
size.  Its  effect  upon  us  is  not  unlike  that  of  a  great  cathe 
dral.  We  are  overpowered  by  its  vastness,  by  the  multitude 
of  its  chapels,  oratories,  naves,  and  aisles;  we  carry  away 
from  it  a  confused  sense  of  towers  and  flying  buttresses  and 
pinnacles  and  gargoyles  and  the  dim  lights  of  splendidly 
coloured  windows.  We  know  that  it  is  magnificent;  but 
its  very  magnificence  overwhelms  us.  A  part  of  its  greatness 
is  rather  the  greatness  of  size  than  of  art.  Such,  in  a  way, 
is  Lockhart's  Life  of  Scott.  It  may  be  that  a  man  of  Sir 
Walter's  mould  requires  a  long  and  elaborate  biography, 
just  as  he  seems  to  have  required  great  monuments.  His 
power  of  production  was  so  unlimited;  his  romances  so 
lavishly  wrought;  his  Abbotsford  home  so  spacious  and 
magnificent ;  his  entire  life  so  full  and  bounding,  that  only 
a  canvas  of  ample  dimensions  could  contain  all  the  details; 
only  a  Gothic  cathedral  could  compass  the  spirit.  Even 

s 


274  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

admitting  all  this,  it  is  difficult  to  see  how  the  inclusion  of 
extracts  from  legal  debates,  fragments  of  imperfect  or 
discarded  poetry,  or  the  full  text  of  letters  only  a  part  of 
which  are  to  the  point,  add  to  the  literary  excellence  of 
such  a  work.  The  danger  of  great  length,  of  great  size,  is 
the  danger  of  sacrificing  the  significant  for  the  insignificant, 
of  hiding  the  truly  characteristic  beneath  a  multitude  of 
details.  The  two,  three,  four  volume  biography  savours  too 
much  of  German  prolixity.'  English  literature  is  none  too 
rich  in  complete,  authoritative  biographies  of  moderate 
length. 

It  is,  to  be  sure,  difficult  to  compare  great  works.  Walton, 
Johnson,  Goldsmith,  Boswell,  Lockhart,  Carlyle,  and 
Froude  are,  each  in  his  own  way,  excellent  biographers: 
each  has  made  a  lasting  contribution  to  English  literature 
in  the  department  of  biography.  From  the  work  of  such 
artists  we  may  learn  something  of  the  qualities  which  go  to 
make  biography  rank  as  literature.  An  examination  of 
their  works  reveals  that  in  essential  features  all  are  similar. 
Fundamentally,  they  are  marked  by  simplicity,  straight 
forwardness,  unaffectedness.  The  purpose  of  the  authors, 
in  each  case,  has  been  to  put  before  us  such  semblance  of  a 
man  as  they  have  been  able  to  construct  from  the  materials 
of  which  they  were  possessed.  They  have  kept  steadily 
before  themselves  the  one  aim  of  unfolding  a  unified  narra 
tive,  and  to  this  aim  all  others  have  been  subordinated. 
It  is  evident  that  style  with  them  has  been  a  secondary 
consideration;  they  have  attained  excellence  as  a  result 
of  the  spirit  in  which  they  have  wrought :  in  keeping  before 
themselves  a  clear  and  definite  purpose,  and  in  working 
out  this  purpose  with  straightforward,  unaffected  precision, 
they  have  secured  the  ideal  of  style — a  manner  of  expres 
sion  perfectly  adapted  to  the  matter  in  hand.  There  is  no 
indication  that  any  one  of  these  writers  has  endeavoured 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE  275 

to  display  his  own  personal  cleverness.  Most  of  them  were 
possessed  of  a  large-hearted  humanity;  most  of  them 
understood  the  frailties  of  human  nature;  most  of  them 
were  charitable;  all  strove  to  be  scrupulously  honest.  In 
the  presence  of  the  deepest  human  emotions  they  were 
reserved.  Great  literature  is  founded  upon  strong  feeling, 
upon  large-hearted  humanity:  it  is  marked  by  simplicity, 
straightforwardness,  unaffectedness,  clarity,  reserve,  truth. 
The  best  of  our  English  biography  is  marked  by  these 
qualities;  always,  in  examining  masterpieces,  we  find  that 
the  superficial  differences  of  method  followed  by  individual 
biographers  do  not  blur  the  similarity  of  the  underlying 
principles.  There  is  an  abiding  unity  beneath  all  the 
manifest  diversity. 

We  may  glance  briefly  at  the  manner  in  which  three 
English  writers  have  described  the  deaths  of  their  subjects. 
These  extracts  may  stand  as  typical  of  the  best  work 
achieved  by  biographers  in  the  description  of  an  event  that 
easily  lends  itself  to  the  display  of  false  sentiment  on  the 
one  hand,  or  of  mere  rhetoric  on  the  other.  Herein  we  may 
find  simplicity,  emotion,  reserve.  The  first  is  from  Fulke 
Greville's  Life  of  Sir  Philip  Sidney  ;  it  is  the  best  portion 
of  the  work,  and  exhibits  the  manner  in  which  strong 
emotion,  breaking  the  bonds  of  a  fettering  prose  style, 
clothes  itself  in  fitting  and  stately  language.  Lord  Brooke 
has  been  describing  the  battle  before  Zutphen;  in  continu 
ing  he  tells  us  how 

"...  an  unfortunate  hand  out  of  those  fore-spoken  trenches  brake 
the  bone  of  Sir  Philip's  thigh  with  a  musket  shot.  The  horse  he 
rode  upon,  was  rather  furiouslie  cholleric,  than  bravely  proud,  and 
so  forced  him  to  forsake  the  field,  but  not  his  back,  as  the  noblest 
and  fittest  biere  to  carry  a  martiall  commander  to  his  grave.  In 
which  sad  progress,  passing  along  by  the  rest  of  the  army,  where  his 
uncle  the  general  was,  and  being  thirsty  with  excess  of  bleeding,  he 
called  for  drink,  which  was  presently  brought  him;  but  as  he  was 


276  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

putting  the  bottle  to  his  mouth,  he  saw  a  poor  souldier  carryed  along, 
who  had  eaten  his  last  at  the  same  feast,  gastly  casting  up  his  eyes 
at  the  same  bottle.  Which  Sir  Philip  perceiving,  took  it  from  his 
head  before  he  drank,  and  delivered  it  to  the  poor  man,  with  these 
words,  '  Thy  necessity  is  yet  greater  than  mine.'  And  when  he  had 
pledged  this  poor  souldier,  he  was  presently  carried  to  Arnheim.  .  .  . 
"  The  last  scene  of  this  tragedy  was  the  parting  of  the  two  brothers : 
the  weaker  showing  infinite  strength  in  suppressing  sorrow,  and  the 
stronger  infinite  weakness  in  expressing  it.  ...  And  to  stop  this 
naturall  torrent  of  affection  in  both,  [Sir  Philip]  took  his  leave,  in 
theis  admonishing  words:  '  Love  my  memorie,  cherish  my  friends; 
their  faith  to  me  may  assure  you  they  are  honest.  But  above  all, 
govern  your  will  and  affections  by  the  will  and  Word  of  your 
Creator;  in  me,  beholding  the  end  of  this  world,  with  all  her  vanities.' 
And  with  this  farewell,  desired  the  company  to  lead  him  away. 
Here  the  noble  gentleman  ended  the  too  short  line  of  his  life,  in 
which  path,  whosoever  is  not  confident  that  he  walked  the  next  way 
to  eternall  rest,  will  be  found  to  judge  uncharitably."  l 

"  I  found  him  entirely  himself,  though  in  the  last  extreme  of 
feebleness,"  writes  Lockhart  in  telling  of  Scott's  death.  "  His  eye 
was  clear  and  calm — every  trace  of  the  wild  fire  of  delirium  extin 
guished.  '  Lockhart,'  he  said,  '  I  may  have  but  a  minute  to  speak 
to  you.  My  dear,  be  a  good  man — be  virtuous — be  religious — be  a 
good  man.  Nothing  else  will  give  you  comfort  when  you  come  to 
lie  here.'  He  paused,  and  I  said,  '  Shall  I  send  for  Sophia  and 
Anne  ?  ' — '  No,'  he  said,  '  don't  disturb  them.  Poor  souls !  I  know 
they  were  up  all  night. — God  bless  you  all !  '  With  this  he  sunk 
into  a  very  tranquil  sleep,  and,  indeed,  he  scarcely  afterwards 
gave  any  sign  of  consciousness,  except  for  an  instant  on  the  arrival 
of  his  sons.  .  .  .  About  half-past  one  p.m.  on  the  2ist  of  September, 
Sir  Walter  breathed  his  last,  in  the  presence  of  all  his  children.  It 
was  a  beautiful  day — so  warm  that  every  window  was  wide  open 
— and  so  perfectly  still  that  the  sound  of  all  others  most  delicious 
to  his  ear,  the  gentle  ripple  of  the  Tweed  over  its  pebbles,  was 
distinctly  audible  as  we  knelt  around  the  bed,  and  his  eldest  son 
kissed  and  closed  his  eyes.  No  sculptor  ever  modelled  a  more  majestic 
image  of  repose."  • 

This  is  the  way  in  which  Froude  writes  of  Carlyle's  passing: 

1  Works  of  Fulke  Greville  Lord  Brooke,  vol.  iv.  pp.  1 30-40  (The 
Fuller  Worthies'  Library). 

*  Life  of  Scott,  vol.  vii.  pp.  393-4. 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY  AS  LITERATURE  277 

"  When  I  saw  him  next  his  speech  was  gone.  His  eyes  were  as  if 
they  did  not  see,  or  were  fixed  on  something  far  away.  I  cannot  say 
whether  he  heard  me  when  I  spoke  to  him,  but  I  said,  '  Ours  has 
been  a  long  friendship;  I  will  try  to  do  what  you  wish.'  This  was 
on  the  4th  of  February,  1881.  The  morning  following  he  died.  He 
had  been  gone  an  hour  when  I  reached  the  house.  He  lay  calm  and 
still,  an  expression  of  exquisite  tenderness  subduing  his  rugged 
features  into  feminine  beauty.  I  have  seen  something  like  it  in 
Catholic  pictures  of  dead  saints,  but  never,  before  or  since,  on  any 
human  countenance."  l 

This  chapter,  we  should  add  in  closing,  attempts  no  more 
than  to  hint  at  the  wealth  of  literature  contained  in  the 
great  mass  of  English  biography.  It  is  perhaps  more 
difficult  to  exhibit  biography  by  quotation  than  any  other 
form  of  composition.  Enough  has  been  said  if  the  reader 
feels  an  awakened  and  growing  desire  to  go  to  the  sources 
for  himself. 

1  Life  of  Carlyle  (In  London),  vol.  ii.  p.  469. 


278  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


CHAPTER  XII 

IN    CONCLUSION 

As  we  come  to  the  close  of  this  historical  survey,  we  find 
the  total  achievement  of  English  biographers  claiming  our 
attention.  What  has  been  accomplished  during  so  long  a 
period?  Before  turning  directly  to  the  answer  of  this 
question,  we  need  again  to  bear  in  mind  that  biography 
began  in  the  British  Islands  at  a  late  period  in  the  general 
history  of  the  form ;  that  for  many  centuries  it  was  written 
in  an  alien  language;  that  it  was  for  a  still  longer  period 
regarded  as  merely  a  branch  of  history;  and  that,  until 
comparatively  recent  times,  its  free  course  was  hindered 
by  the  dominating  influence  of  an  ethical  purpose.  It  is 
not  surprising,  therefore,  that  its  development  has  been 
retarded.  We  have  followed  the  slow  course  of  that  develop 
ment  from  690  A.D.  to  the  end  of  the  Latin  period;  we  have 
seen  its  more  hopeful  progress  during  the  seventeenth  and 
early  eighteenth  centuries;  and  have  observed  how,  from 
1744,  that  progress  has  been  continuous  and  almost  unham 
pered.  A  summary  review  will  enable  us  more  fully  to 
appreciate  the  achievement  wrought  during  twelve  centuries. 
Appearing  as  it  did  late  in  the  general  history  of  the 
form,  English  biography  has  profited  by  a  study  of  all  that 
had  been  produced  before  690  A.D.,  as  well  as  of  all  produced 
since  that  date.  In  other  words,  its  foundations  are  laid  in 
the  past,  and  its  entire  fabric  has  been  wrought  according 
to  principles  brought  from  far:  it  has  put  the  whole  world 
under  contribution.  It  has  not  been,  however,  merely 


IN  CONCLUSION  279 

imitative;  it  has  given  large  return  to  the  world  for  every 
idea  that  has  been  received.  We  may  say,  then,  that 
English  biographers  have  accomplished  these  important 
results : 

(1)  Working  on  foundations  laid  in  the  past,  they  have 
evolved  a  clear  definition  of  the  form.  When  John  Dryden 
in  1683  defined  biography  as  "  the  history  of  particular 
men's  lives,"  he  not  only  introduced  a  new  word  into  the 
English  language,  he  also  introduced  a  new  notion  of  the 
word  defined  into  the  mind  of  the  world.    His  definition 
helped  to  bring  about  the  next  important  result. 

(2)  Working    upon   Dryden's    definition,    English    bio 
graphers  have  freed  the  form  from  the  trammels  of  history 
proper. 

(3)  They    have    cleared    biography    of    panegyric    and 
invective,  and  hence  have  freed  it  from  the  ethical  purpose. 

(4)  They  have  refused  to  allow  it  to  serve  as  a  hand 
maiden  of  science,  and  have  thus  established  its  complete 
independence  within  its  own  domain;    they  have  made  it 
autonomous.      "  Any  assistance  that  biography  renders 
these  three  great  interests — ethical,  historical,  and  scientific 
— should  be  accidental;   such  aid  is  neither  essential  nor 
obligatory."  l 

(5)  Accepting  the  principles  set  forth  by  Plutarch,  they 
have  fashioned  upon  them  such  remarkable  biographies 
as   Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson,   Lockhart's    Life  of  Scott, 
Carlyle's  Life  of  Sterling,  and  Froude's  Life  of  Carlyle. 

(6)  More  fully  than  the  biographers  of  any  other  nation, 
they  have  developed  the  principles  of  national  biography 
and  have  produced  the  best  body  of  such  biography  in 
existence. 

(7)  From    the    standpoint    of    importance   of    subject, 
skilful    workmanship,    and   literary    quality,    they    have 

1  Lee,  Principles  of  Biography,  p.  18. 


280  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

produced  the  largest  number  of  great  biographies  in  the 
world. 


One  leaves  a  study  of  biography  with  the  impression  that 
man  is  yet  the  most  absorbingly  interesting  subject  to  man. 
The  amount  of  life-narrative  written,  as  well  as  the  demand 
for  what  is  produced,  bears  witness  to  the  fact  that  however 
much  man  may  be  engrossed  in  material  pursuits,  in  the 
mere  things  of  the  world,  he  is  yet  deeply  interested  in 
his  fellows.  The  manifest  interest  in  the  form  shows  one, 
too,  that  man  is  still  the  idealist.  He  is  eager  to  read  the 
story  of  those  other  men  who  have  lived  bravely.  That 
world-old  tendency  to  succumb  to  panegyric,  that  charac 
teristic  English  habit  of  striving  to  make  biography  serve 
a  moral  end,  bears  witness  also  to  the  thirsting  of  mankind 
to  rise  above  itself.  Life-narratives  get  more  closely  to  the 
hearts  of  men  than  impersonal  histories.  "  The  great  charm 
of  biography  consists  in  the  individuality  of  the  details, 
the  familiar  tone  of  the  incidents,  the  bringing  us  acquainted 
with  the  persons  of  men  whom  we  have  formerly  known 
only  by  their  works  or  names,  the  absence  of  all  exaggera 
tion  or  pretension,  and  the  immediate  appeal  from  theories 
to  facts."  l  Taking  all  things  into  consideration,  we  should 
not,  perhaps,  deplore  what  we  are  inclined  to  call  the 
present-day  "  excess  of  biography."  In  most  cases,  life- 
narrative  is  profitable  reading. 

One  leaves  the  study,  too,  with  a  feeling  of  the  intangi 
bility  of  this  "  soul  stuff  "  which  goes  to  the  making  of 
mind  and  spirit;  one  feels  a  hopelessness  of  ever  really 
getting  at  the  heart  of  a  man.  "  But  what  is  it  to  tell  the 
facts  that  he  was  born,  married  or  lived  single,  and  died  ?  " 

1  Article  on  Lady  Morgan's  Life  of  Salvator  Rosa,  in  Edinburgh 
Review  (July  1824),  p.  317. 


IN  CONCLUSION  281 

asks  Egerton  Brydges.  "  What  is  common  to  all  can  convey 
no  information.  We  desire  to  know  an  author's  feelings, 
his  modes  of  thinking,  and  his  habits; — nay,  even  his 
person,  his  voice,  and  his  mode  of  expressing  himself;  the 
society  in  which  he  has  lived,  and  the  images  and  lessons 
which  attended  upon  his  cradle."  l  These  are  the  fleeting, 
intangible,  elusive  materials  which  try  the  soul  of  a  bio 
grapher.  Boswell  records  a  dictum  of  Dr.  Johnson,  that 
"  they  only  who  live  with  a  man  can  write  his  life  with 
any  genuine  exactness  and  discrimination;  and  few  people 
who  have  lived  with  a  man  know  what  to  remark  about 
him."  2  Carlyle  was  of  the  opinion  that  "  a  well-written 
Life  is  almost  as  rare  as  a  well-spent  one,"  and  that  "  there 
are  certainly  many  more  men  whose  history  deserves  to  be 
recorded,  than  persons  willing  and  able  to  record  it."  * 
"  The  impossibility  of  fathoming  a  great  man's  mind  " — 
or  any  man's  mind,  for  that  matter — is  impressed  upon  one 
more  forcibly  than  ever  by  the  reading  of  many  biographies. 
It  was  no  doubt  because  of  the  difficulty  involved  in 
approximating  truthful  biography,  that  Wordsworth, 
Tennyson,  and  many  others  have  given  it  as  their  opinion 
that  the  utterances  of  a  poet  may  more  nearly  constitute 
his  biography  than  can  anything  which  is  written  about 
him.  Tennyson,  especially,  insisted  that  life  was  too  subtile 
to  be  confined  within  the  covers  of  a  biographical  record; 
it  was  his  own  opinion  "  that  Merlin  and  the  Gleam  would 
probably  be  enough  of  biography  for  those  friends  who 
urged  him  to  write  about  himself."  His  opinion  is  still 
more  clearly  set  forth  in  the  following  sonnet : 

"  Old  ghosts  whose  day  was  done  ere  mine  began. 
If  earth  be  seen  from  your  conjectured  heaven, 
Ye  know  that  History  is  half-dream — aye  even 
The  man's  life  in  the  letters  of  the  man. 

1 A  utobiography,  vol.  i.  p.  89.     •  Life  of  Johnson,  Hill,  vol.  ii.  p.  446. 
*  Essay  on  Richter. 


282  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

There  lies  the  letter,  but  it  is  not  he 
As  he  retires  into  himself  and  is : 
Sender  and  sent-to  go  to  make  up  this, 
Their  offspring  of  this  union.   And  on  me 
Frown  not,  old  ghosts,  if  I  be  one  of  those 
Who  make  you  utter  things  you  did  not  say, 
And  mould  you  all  awry  and  mar  your  worth; 
For  whatsoever  knows  us  truly,  knows 
That  none  can  truly  write  his  single  day, 
And  none  can  write  it  for  him  upon  earth."  1 

There  is  ample  testimony  that  many  are  in  substantial 
agreement  with  Tennyson  as  regards  both  biography  and 
autobiography.  We  are  accustomed  to  think  of  the  great 
autobiographical  value  of  journals,  diaries,  etc.,  yet  under 
date  of  December  14,  1853,  Longfellow  wrote  in  his  journal: 
"  How  brief  this  chronicle  is,  even  of  my  outward  life. 
And  of  my  inner  life,  not  a  word."  In  verses  that  contain 
more  of  truth  than  of  poetry  Frances  Ridley  Havergal 
writes  thus: 

"  AUTOBIOGRAPHY!    So  you  say, 

So  do  I  not  believe! 

For  no  men  or  women  that  live  to-day, 
Be  they  as  good  or  as  bad  as  they  may. 

Ever  would  dare  to  leave 
In  faintest  pencil  or  boldest  ink 
All  they  truly  and  really  think, 
What  they  have  said  and  what  they  have  done, 
What  they  have  lived  and  what  they  have  felt, 
Under  the  stars  or  under  the  sun.  .  .  . 

Autobiography  ?   No ! 
It  never  was  written  yet,  I  trow.  .  .  . 

You  say  'tis  a  fact  that  the  books  exist, 
Printed  and  published  in  Mudie's  list, 

Some  in  two  volumes  and  some  in  one — 
Autobiographies  plenty.    But  look! 

I  will  tell  you  what  is  done 

1  Sonnet  written  originally  as  a  preface  to  Becket.  Published  in 
Preface  to  A  If  red  Lord  Tennyson,  a  Memoir  by  his  Son. 


IN  CONCLUSION  283 

By  the  writers,  confidentially ! 
They  cut  little  pieces  out  of  their  lives 

And  join  them  together, 
Making  them  up  as  a  readable  book. 

And  call  it  an  autobiography, 
Though  little  enough  of  the  life  survives. 

Ah  no!   We  write  our  lives  indeed, 

But  in  a  cipher  none  can  read 

Except  the  author.    He  may  pore 

The  life-accumulating  lore 
For  evermore. 

And  find  the  records  strange  and  true, 

Bring  wisdom  old  and  new. 

But  though  he  break  the  seal, 

No  power  has  he  to  give  the  key, 
No  licence  to  reveal. 

We  wait  the  all -declaring  day, 

When  love  shall  know  as  it  is  known; 
Till  then,  the  secrets  of  our  lives  are  ours  and  God's  alone."  l 

Not  dissimilarly  has  Walt  Whitman  written: 

"  When  I  read  the  book,  the  biography  famous, 

And  is  this,  then,  (said  I),  what  the  author  calls  a  man's  life? 
And  so  will  some  one,  when  I  am  dead  and  gone,  write  my  life  ? 
(As  if  any  man  really  knew  aught  of  my  life; 
Why,  even  I  myself,  I  often  think,  know  little  or  nothing  of  my 

real  life; 

Only  a  few  hints — a  few  diffused,  faint  clues  and  indirections, 
I  seek,  for  my  own  use,  to  trace  out  here.)  "  ' 

In  the  light  of  such  testimony,  the  Rev.  Thomas  David 
son's  exclamation  seems  to  carry  weight :  "  And  if  a  man 
has  so  much  ado  to  understand  his  own  heart,  how  much 
less  valuable  will  be  his  diagnosis  of  his  neighbour's." 
The  nearest  approximation  to  the  truth  would  seem  to 
come  from  a  union  of  biography  and  autobiography — the 
result  of  a  man's  own  record  of  himself  carefully  supple 
mented  by  a  discriminating  analysis  and  interpretation 

1  Poem,  Autobiography,  May  1869. 

•  "  When  I  Read  the  Book,"  Leaves  of  Grass,  p.  14. 


284  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

written  by  some  other  person  able  and  willing  to  speak 
the  truth.  "  Perhaps,"  writes  Mr.  Edwards,  "  the  auto- 
biographer  is  most  usefully  employed  when  he  acknow 
ledges  to  himself  that  he  can,  at  the  best,  but  supply  rough 
material  for  another  man  to  work  upon.  .  .  .  Such  material, 
how  imperfect  soever,  must  always  be  numbered  among 
the  best  sources  of  true  biography.  Whatever  the  admix 
ture  of  fallacy,  and  alike  whether  the  fallacy  arise  from 
deceit  or  from  self-delusion,  an  autobiography  cannot  but 
be,  in  its  measure,  a  true  revelation  of  the  man  that  com 
posed  it.  It  cannot  but  show  (sometimes  in  the  writer's 
despite)  much  of  the  soul  within,  as  well  of  the  garb  in 
which  that  soul  was  clothed,  and  of  the  circumstances  in 
the  midst  of  which  it  acted  and  strove.  The  mental  measure 
of  a  biographer  would  seem  to  lie  in  the  degree  in  which  he 
is  able  to  read  between  the  lines  of  such  autobiographic 
material."  1 

From  no  angle,  in  short,  does  the  task  of  biography 
seem  easy,  whether  one  is  writing  of  self  or  of  another. 
Perhaps  no  other  form  of  composition  is  so  difficult;  no 
other  deals  with  such  elusive  material.  Other  forms  of 
composition  deal  with  thought  and  emotion — things 
subtile  and  elusive  enough  in  themselves — but  biography 
deals  with  the  source  of  thought  and  emotion,  with  man 
himself  in  his  inward  and  outward  manifestations.  Who  is 
sufficient  for  such  a  task  ? 

"  In  biography,  as  in  other  walks  of  intellectual  labour,  a  man 
must  set  his  aim  much  above  his  reach,  if  he  would  really  attain  the 
full  limit  of  his  real  power.  The  ideal  '  biographer  '  has  to  seek  a 
more  than  possible  harmony  between  the  beginning  of  a  life  and  its 
end — on  earth — or  he  will  fail  to  elicit  from  the  small  incidents  of 
youthful  days,  and  from  the  unripe  strivings  of  early  manhood,  the 
indications  of  character  which  they  so  often  contain.  To  the  eye 

1  A  Handbook  to  the  Literature  of  General  Biography,  p.  18. 


IN  CONCLUSION  285 

that  has  gained  real  insight,  a  trivial  anecdote  of  childhood  may 
very  truthfully  present 

'  The  baby  figure  of  the  giant  mass 
Of  things  to  come,  at  large.' 

In  proportion  as  the  biographer  succeeds  in  putting  saliently  before 
the  eyes  of  his  readers  the  various  sets — so  to  speak — of  outward 
circumstance  and  surroundings  in  which  his  subject  was  successively 
placed,  and  extracts  from  the  evidence  of  what  the  man  ultimately 
did  and  was,  the  loss  or  gain  derived  from  those  external  influences, 
he  becomes  the  true  narrator  of  a  life.  He  becomes  pre-eminently 
that,  if  he  be  able  to  elicit,  as  he  nears  the  earthly  close  of  the  tale 
he  is  telling,  what  it  really  was  that  the  man  he  writes  about 
gathered  out  of  this  life,  to  carry  with  him  into  the  next.  If  the 
biographer  be  able  to  do  this  in  some  degree,  he  makes  his  readers 
to  feel  that  our  human  life  is  always  a  probation,  as  well  as  a  combat, 
and  not  merely  to  acknowledge  that  deep  truth  in  conventional 
language.  No  biographer  can  possibly  do  this  perfectly.  The  most 
gifted  one  can  but  get  glimpses  into  a  human  heart.  He  cannot  see 
it  as  it  was.  To  make  those  glimpses  truthful  ones  is  to  the  real 
biographer  both  cross  and  crown.  They  are  at  once  the  crucial 
difficulty  and  the  crowning  glory  of  his  task.  No  writer  can  fully 
achieve  it.  He  must,  perhaps,  combine  something  of  the  poet  with 
not  a  little  of  the  philosopher  in  order  to  do  any  part  of  it.  But 
unless  he  can  make  some  approximation  to  such  a  result,  he  has 
mistaken  his  calling.  And  the  mere  attempt  to  achieve  it  is  a  func 
tion  which  belongs  to  the  biographer  distinctively.  It  is  no  part  of 
the  work  of  the  historian  of  a  nation."  > 

"  There  is  neither  picture,  nor  image  of  marble,  nor  arch 
of  triumph,  nor  pillar,  nor  sumptuous  sepulchre,  can 
match  the  durableness  of  an  eloquent  biography,  furnished 
with  the  qualities  which  it  ought  to  have,"  wrote  wise  old 
Jacques  Amyot  in  1 565.2  For  more  than  twelve  centuries 
British  biographers,  confident  of  the  value  of  their  work, 

1  Edwards,  A  Handbook  to  the  Literature  of  General  Biography, 
pp.  16-17. 

•Cited  by  Lee  in  the  Principles  of  Biography  from  the  "  Aux 
Lecteurs  "  of  Amyot's  translation  of  Plutarch's  Lives:  ".  .  .  car  il 
n'y  a  ny  statues,  ny  trophees  de  marbre,  ny  arcs  de  triomphe,  ny 
coulonnes,  ny  sepultures  magnifiques,  qui  puissent  combattre  la  durte 
d'une  Histoire  eloquente,  accomplie  de  qualitez  qu'elle  doit  avoir." 


286  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

have  been  labouring  to  furnish  it  with  "  the  qualities  which 
it  ought  to  have."  They  have  not  yet  succeeded  in  embody 
ing  all  these  qualities  in  any  one  work,  nor  in  combining 
them  in  just  the  ideal  proportions;  but  they  have  approxi 
mated  success  more  closely  than  have  the  biographers  of 
any  other  nation.  We  may  look  forward  to  the  future  with 
confidence,  in  the  assurance  that  English  biography — that 
is,  all  save  the  mere  ephemeral  and  worthless  stuff  doomed 
from  the  beginning  to  oblivion — is  to  be  in  every  way  more 
carefully  wrought.  It  will  not  be  hastily  and  illogically  put 
together.  It  will  be  more  unified,  more  coherent,  more 
selective,  exhibiting  more  completely  the  qualities  of  con 
centration,  brevity,  and  self-effacement;  in  short,  it  is 
destined  to  be,  far  more  than  it  has  been  in  the  past,  a 
work  of  art. 


APPENDIX 

I 
BIOGRAPHICAL  COMPILATIONS  IN  LATIN 

1 .  Catalogus  Scriptorum  Ecclesiae  :    John  Boston.     "  I 
know  of  no  writer  of  literary  memoirs  in  this  kingdom 
prior  to  John  Boston,  a  monk  of  St.  Edmund's  Bury,  who, 
early  in  the  fifteenth  century,  wrote  a  catalogue  of  the 
principal  manuscripts  contained  in  our  universities  and 
monasteries,  with  some  account  of  the  lives  of  the  authors. 
The  title  of  his  book,  according  to  Bale  and  Pits,  was 
Catalogus    Scriptorum   Ecclesiae;     but    neither    of    these 
writers  are  to  be  depended  upon  in  point  of  titles.     Boston's 
plan    was    probably    more    general.     Archbishop    Usher 
formerly   possessed   a   copy   of   this   curious   manuscript, 
which   Dr.   Thomas   Gale   intended   to   publish.     This    I 
learn  from  a  manuscript  note  of  Mr.  Oldys,  in  Fuller's 
Worthies.     I  also  learn  from  the  same  writer  that,  in  the 
latter  end  of  the  reign  of  King  William,  there  appeared 
an   advertisement    announcing   a   speedy   publication   of 
Boston's  book;    it  was  never  printed." — B.     A  consider 
able  portion  of  Boston's  manuscript  was  printed  in  Wilkin's 
preface  to  Tanner's  Biblioibeca  Britannico-Hibernica,  1748. 

2.  Commentarii     de     Scriptoribus     Brittanniae :    John 
Leland.     Oxford,    1709.     "  Generally   supposed    to   have 
taken  his  facts  from  Boston  ...  [of  whom]  he  makes 
not  the  least  mention.  .  .  .     His  Commentarii  .  .  .  con 
tain  a  number  of  important  facts,  which  however  might 
have  been  better  related  in  less  than  half  the  number  of 
pages,  and  that  half  might  have  been  still  considerably 

287 


288  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

abridged  by  omitting  king  Bladud,  king  Lucius,  the 
emperor  Constantine,  and  many  others  who  had  no  better 
title  to  the  rank  of  authors.  .  .  .  After  Leland's  death 
his  MS.  fell  into  the  hands  of  John  Bale."— B. 

3.  Illustrium  Majoris  Britanniae  Scriptorum,  hoc  est, 
Angliae^  Cambriae,  ac  Scotiae,  Summarium :  John  Bale, 
Ipswich,  1548.  ".  .  .  so  implacably  inveterate  against 
those  of  the  Romish  Church,  that  there  is  hardly  a  Billings 
gate  phrase  in  the  Latin  language  which  he  has  not  em 
ployed  in  their  abuse.  .  .  .  Except  what  he  borrowed 
from  Leland's  manuscript,  there  is  nothing  valuable  in 
his  book.  At  the  end  of  the  life  of  each  author  he  pretends 
to  give  a  catalogue  of  their  works,  with  which  he  was  in 
general  so  little  acquainted,  that  he  frequently  multiplies 
one  book  into  five  or  six,  by  mistaking  the  title  of  a  chapter 
for  that  of  a  book."— B.  "  The  merits  of  Bale's  Catalogue 
are  neither  so  many  nor  so  eminent  as  is  generally 
supposed." — Sir  Thomas  Duffus  Hardy,  Descriptive 
Catalogue,  Preface,  p.  xxxix.  See  also  John  Bale's  Index  of 
British  and  Other  Writers.  Edited  by  Reginald  Lane  Poole 
and  Mary  Bateson.  (Anecdota  Oxoniensa,  Oxford,  1902.) 

"  Loe  here  the  man  who  stir'd  Romes  comon  shore 
Untill  it  stunk,  and  stunk  him  out  of  dore. 
Twelve  years  he  serv'd  the  Babilonian  witch; 
Drank  of  her  cup  and  wallowed  in  her  ditch, 
Untill  the  sunshine  of  diviner  Truth 
Shot  saving  beames  into  his  hopefull  youth: 
And  led  him  thence  to  serve  another  Saint 
Whose  mirth  was  teares,  whose  freedom  was  restraint; 
Whose  progresse  was  a  banishment;  whose  food 
Was  want  and  famine,  and  whose  drinke  was  blood: 
His  dayes  were  full  of  troubles,  and  his  nights 
Were  sad  exchanges  stor'd  with  f eares  and  frights : 
His  wealth  was  poverty,  his  peace  was  strife, 
His  life  was  death:  his  death  eternall  life." 

Quarles'    verses    on    John    Bale,    in 
Abel  Redevivus,  pp.  510-11. 


APPENDIX  289 

4.  Joannis  Pitsei  Angli,  S.  Theologiae  Doctoris,  Liverduni 
in  Lotharingia  Decani,  Relationum  Historicarum  de  Rebus 
Anglicis,  Tomus  Primus.     Paris,  1619.     Generally  known 
as   the   de  Illustribus  Angliae   Scriptoribus :     John   Pits. 
This  constitutes  one  (the  fourth)  of  a  series  of  volumes 
prepared  by  Pits,  and  is  the  only  one  that  has  been  printed. 
The  others   contain  the  lives  of  the  English  monarchs, 
bishops,  and  "  apostolic  members  "  of  the  English  Church, 
respectively;     the    original    MSS.    are    preserved    at    the 
collegiate  church  at  Verdun.     Pits  was  a  Romish  priest 
and  hence  has   preserved  much  information   concerning 
Catholic  writers.     "  Not  less  partial  to  those  of  his  own 
religion  than  his  predecessor  Bale  from  whom  he  took 
most  of  his  materials  without  acknowledgment;    but  he 
was  infinitely  more  polite.  .  .  .     His  book  .  .  .  abounds 
with  mistakes,   and   his   lists   of   works  are   exceedingly 
erroneous.     He  comes  down  to  ...  1614." — B. 

5.  Heruologia  Anglica,  hoc  est,  clarissimorum  et  doctissi- 
morum  aliquot  Anglorum  qui  floruerunt  ab  anno   Cbristi 
M.D.  usque  adpresentem  annum  M.D.C.XX.    Vivae  effigies^ 
Vitae,  et  elogia.     Arnheim,  1620.     Henry  Holland  (1583- 
1650?). 

6.  Historia    Ecclesiastica    Gentis    Scotorum :     Thomas 
Dempster.     Bologna,  1627.     "  This  book  contains  a  short 
account  of  a  number  of  Scotch  authors;    but  Dempster 
was  so  exceedingly  desirous  of  increasing  his  catalogue 
that  he  makes  Scotchmen  of  many  writers  who  were  cer 
tainly  born  in  other  countries.     //  crut,  says  a  French 
writer,  faire  honneur  a  sa  patrie,  enfaisant  naltre  dans  son 
sein  une  foule  d'ecrivains  etr  angers,  &  il  s'en  jit  tres  peu  d 
lui-meme.     (Nouv.  Diet.  Historique,  article  Dempster)." — 
B.     "  Although   displaying   great   industry,    the   book   is 
chiefly   remarkable  for  its   extraordinary   dishonesty." — 
Henry    Bradley,    Dictionary    National   Biography,    article 
"  Dempster." 

T 


290  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

7.  De  Scriptoribus  Hiberniae  :  Sir  James  Ware.     Dublin, 
1639.     "  His  lives  are  short,  and  confined  to  authors  born 
or  preferred  in  Ireland.     He  begins  with  the  introduction 
of  Christianity  in  that  kingdom,  and  ends  with  the  six 
teenth  century.     Such  circumstances  as  he  was  able  to 
collect  he  relates  impartially  and  seldom  gives  any  character 
of  his  authors  or  their  writings." — B. 

8.  Scriptorum    Ecclesiasticorum    Historia    Liter  aria,    a 
Christo   Nato   usque   ad  Saeculum   XIV .     Facili  methodo 
digesta.     Qua  de  vita  illorum  ac  rebus  gestis,  de  Secta,  Dog- 
matibus,  Elogis,  Stylo  ;    de  Scriptis  genuinis,  dubiis,  sup- 
posititiis,    ineditis,    desperditis,  fragmentis  ;     deque    variis 
operum  Editionibus  perspicue  agitur.     Accedunt  Scriptoris 
Gentiles,  Christianae  Religionis  oppugnatores ;    et  cujusvis 
Saeculi  Breviarum :    William  Cave,   1688;    (Pars  Alt  era), 
1698.     The  work  extends  only  to  the  beginning  of  the 
fourteenth  century.     Later,  Henry  Wharton  and  Robert 
Gery  continued  it  to  1517.     More  reliable  than  the  works 
of  Bale  and  Pits,  yet  poor  when  measured  by  present-day 
standards. 

9.  Bibliotheca  Britannico-Hibernica :  Thomas  Tanner, 
1748.  "  It  was  the  elaborate  work  of  forty  years'  applica 
tion.  His  lives  of  authors  are  taken  chiefly  from  Leland, 
Bale,  and  Pits;  the  first  of  whom  he  constantly  transcribes 
verbatim.  We  are,  however,  much  obliged  to  his  lord 
ship  for  adding  to  the  life  of  each  author  a  much  more 
accurate  list  of  works  than  is  to  be  found  in  any  pre 
ceding  biographer." — B.  "  On  all  questions  connected 
with  the  early  literature  of  our  nation,  Tanner's  Biblio- 
theca,  notwithstanding  its  many  omissions,  defects,  and 
redundancies,  is  still  the  highest  authority  to  which  the 
inquirer  can  refer.  As  a  storehouse  of  historical  materials, 
it  is  invaluable;  although  the  vast  information  contained 
in  it  is  badly  arranged  and  requires  a  careful  and  critical 
revision." — Hardy,  Descriptive  Catalogue,  Preface,  p.  xlii. 


APPENDIX  291 

II 

BIOGRAPHICAL   COMPILATIONS    IN 
ENGLISH 

(To  the  end  of  the  Eighteenth  Century) 

1.  Abel  Redevivus  :  or  the  dead  yet  speaking.     The  Lives 
and  Deaths  of  the  Moderne  Divines.     Written  by  severall 
able  and  learned  men  (whose  names  ye  shall  finde  in  the 
Epistle  to  the  Reader).     And  now  digested  into  one  Volume, 
for  the  benefit  and  satisfaction  of  all  those  that  desire  to  be 
acquainted  with  the  Paths  of  Piety  and  Virtue.     Prov.  10.  7. 
The  memory  of  the  just  is  blessed,  but  the  name  of  the  wicked 
shall    rot.     1651.     [Thomas    Fuller.]     "The    chief    merit 
of  this   book  is  its   being  the  first   biographical  volume 
published  in  the  English  language:    at  least,  I  know  of 
none  of  an  earlier  date." — B. 

2.  The  History  of  the  Worthies  of  England.     Endeavoured 
by  Thomas  Fuller,  D.D.     1662.     "  His  accounts  of  authors 
are  generally  taken  from  Bale  and  Pits;    but  the  doctor's 
natural  propensity  to  be  witty  was  so  exceedingly  prevalent 
that   he   constantly   seems   to  wish   rather   to   make  his 
readers  merry  than  wise." — B. 

3.  Theatrum  Poetarum,  or  a  compleat  collection  of  the 
Poets,  especially  the  most  eminent  of  all  ages,  the  Ancients 
distinguish^  from  the  Moderns  in  their  several  alphabets. 
With  some  observations  and  reflections  upon  many  of  them, 
particularly  those  of  our  own  nation.  Together  with  a  prefatory 
discourse  of  the  Poets  and  Poetry  in  General.     By  Edward 
Phillips.     1675.     "  It   is   a   small   volume,    containing   a 
short  account  of  ancient  and  modern  poets  in  general, 
among  which  there  are  some  Englishmen." — B. 

4.  The  Lives  of  Sundry  Eminent  Persons  in  this  Later 
Age.     In  two  parts  :    I.  Of  Divines.     II.  Of  Nobility  and 


292  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

Gentry  of  both  Sexes.     By  Samuel  Clark,  Sometimes  Pastor 
of  Sennet  Fink,  London.     1683. 

5.  The  Lives  of  the  most  Famous  English  Poets,  or  the 
Honour  of  Parnassus  ;    in  a  Brief  Essay  of  the  Works  and 
Writings  of  above  Two  Hundred  of  them,  from  the  Time  of 
K.   William  the  Conqueror,  to  the  Reign  of  His  Present 
Majesty  King  James  II.     By  William  Winstanley.     1687. 

6.  Athenae   Oxonienses.     An   Exact  History   of  all  the 
Writers  and  Bishops  who  have  had  their  Education  in  the 
most  antient  and  Famous  University  of  Oxford,  from  the 
Fifteenth  Tear  of  King  Henry  the  Seventh,  An.  Dom.ti$oo, 
to  the  End  of  the  Tear  1690.     Representing  the  Birth,  Fortune, 
Preferment,  and  Death  of  all  those  Authors  and  Prelates,  the 
great  Accidents  of  their  Lives,  and  the  Fate  and  Character 
of  their  Writings.     To  which  are  added,  the  Fasti,  or  annals 
of  the  said  University,  for  the  same  time.     [By  Anthony 
Wood,  M.A.]     1691.     "The  work  was  first  begun  in  the 
Latine  tongue,  and  for  some  time  continued  on  in  the  same, 
but  upon  the  desire  of  a  worthy  person  (now  dead)  who  was 
an   encourager   thereof,   it   was   thought   more   useful   to 
publish,  as  you  will  now  find  it,  in  an  honest  plain  English 
dress,  without  flourishes,  or  affectation  of  stile,  as  best 
becomes  a  history  of  truth  and  matter  of  fact.     It  is  the 
first  of  its  nature,  I  believe,  that  has  ever  been  printed  in 
our  own,  or  any  other,  mother  tongue:    for  tho*  several 
authors  (particularly  Ant.  du  Ferdier,  a  Frenchman)  have 
written  histories  or  descriptions  of  illustrious  men  of  their 
respective  countries  in  their  own  language,   eminent  as 
well  for  the  sword  as  pen,  yet  that  of  Verdier,  and  all  of 
the  like  subject  are  different  from  this  present  triple  variety, 
written  for  the  most  part  in  the  nature  of  a  Bibliotheque  ; 
which,  I  presume,  no  person,  as  yet,  hath  done  the  like, 
in  his  native  tongue." — From  Wood's  "  To  the  Reader." 
"  His  manner  is  cynical,  his  language  antiquated,  and  his 
civil  and  religious  opinions  illiberal." — B. 


APPENDIX  293 

7.  An  Account  of  the  English  Dramatick  Poets  :  or,  Some 
observations  and  Remarks  on  the  Lives  and  Writings  of  all 
those  that  have  Published  either  Comedies,  Tragedies,  Tragi- 
Comedies,  Pastorals,  Masques,  Interludes,  Farces,  or  Opera's 
in  the  English  Tongue.     By  Gerard  Langbaine.     1691. 

8.  De  Re   Poetica :    or,    Remarks   upon   Poetry.     With 
Characters  and  Censures  of  the  most  Considerable  Poets, 
whether  Ancient  or  Modern.     Extracted  out  of  the  best  and 
choicest  criticks.     By  Sir  Thomas  Pope  Blount.     1694.     A 
compilation  of  very  little  biographical  value. 

9.  The  Lives  and  Characters  of  the  English  Dramatick 
Poets.     Also  an  Exact  Account  of  all  the  Plays  that  were 
ever  yet  Printed  in  the  English  Tongue  ;  their  Double  Titles, 
the  Places  where  Acted,  the  Dates  when  Printed,  and  the 
Persons  to  whom  Dedicated  ;  with  Remarks  and  Observations 
on  most  of  the  said  Plays.     First  begun  by  Mr.  Langbain, 
improved  and  continued  down  to  this  time  by  a  Careful  Hand. 
[Charles  Gildon  (1665-1724)]  [1698]. 

10.  The  Great  Historical,  Geographical,  Genealogical,  and 
Poetical  Dictionary.  .  .  .  Collected  .  .  .  more  especially  out 
of  Lewis  Morery,  D.D.,  his  Eighth  Edition  Corrected  and 
Enlarged  by  Monsieur  Le  Clerc  .  .  .  to  which  are  added,  by 
way  of  Supplement,  intermixed  throughout  the  Alphabet,  the 
Lives,  most  Remarkable  Actions,  and  Writings  of  several 
Illustrious   Families    of  our    English,    Scotch,    and   Irish 
Nobility,   and  Gentry.  .  .  .     Revised,    Corrected,   and  En 
larged  to  the  Tear  1688  ;  By  Jer.  Collier,  A.M.    1701.    Two 
volumes. 

1 1 .  The  Poetical  Register  :    or,  the  Lives  and  Characters 
of  the  English  Dramatick  Poets.     With  an  Account  of  their 
Writings.    [Giles  Jacob.]    1719.    "  The  foundation  of  the 
work  is  owing  to  Mr.  Langbain,  who  was  the  first  that 


294  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

brought  these  memoirs  into  any  tolerable  form.  ...  As 
to  the  accounts  of  the  living  authors,  most  of  them  came 
from  their  own  hands,  excepting  such  parts  as  relate  to 
the  fame  of  their  writings,  where  I  thought  myself  at 
liberty  to  give  such  characters  of  praise  or  dispraise  as  the 
best  judges  before  me  had  passed  upon  their  performances." 
From  the  "  Preface."  "  They  [the  works  of  Winstanley, 
Langbaine,  Gildon,  and  Jacob]  are  generally  transcripts 
from  each  other  and  are  all  trifling  performances.  They 
have  been  since  absorbed  in  Gibber's  Lives  of  the  Poets." 
— B. 

12.  Biographia  Britannic  a  :  or,  the  Lives  of  the  most 
eminent  persons  who  have  flourished  in  Great  Britain  and 
Ireland,  from  the  earliest  ages  down  to  the  present  times  : 
collected  from  the  best  authorities,  both  printed  and  manu 
script,  and  digested  in  the  manner  of  Mr.  Bayle's  Historical 
and  Critical  Dictionary.  London,  1747. 

"  It  was  with  this  view  that  the  Biographia  Britannic  a 
was  undertaken;  it  was  in  order  to  collect  into  one  body, 
without  any  restriction  of  time  or  place,  profession  or 
condition,  the  memoirs  of  such  of  our  countrymen  as  have 
been  eminent,  and  by  their  performances  of  any  kind 
deserve  to  be  remembered.  We  judged  that  this  would 
be  a  most  useful  service  to  the  publick,  a  kind  of  general 
monument  erected  to  the  most  deserving  of  all  ages,  an 
expression  of  gratitude  due  to  their  services,  and  the  most 
probable  means  of  exciting,  in  succeeding  times,  a  spirit 
of  emulation  which  might  prompt  men  to  an  imitation 
of  their  virtues.  This  was  the  first  and  great  motive  to 
the  attempting  such  a  collection,  towards  which,  indeed, 
we  saw  that  there  were  considerable  materials  ready  pre 
pared,  though  no  sign  of  any  such  buildings  being  ever 
traced,  or  that  there  had  ever  been  a  thought,  either  as 
to  the  expediency  or  possibility  of  erecting  such  a  struc 
ture:  a  British  Temple  of  Honour,  sacred  to  the  piety, 
learning,  valour,  publick-spirit,  loyalty,  and  every  other 


APPENDIX  295 

glorious  virtue  of  our  ancestors,  and  ready  also  for  the 
reception  of  the  worthies  of  our  own  time,  and  the  heroes 
of  posterity." — Preface,  p.  viii. 

"  It  was  compiled  with  great  labour,  and  full  of  copious 
and  exact  details;  but  commonly  dull,  without  force  of 
character,  and  without  adequate  discrimination.  The 
plan,  which  is  that  of  Bayle,  is  not  altogether  the  best. 
The  notes  make  a  perpetual  impediment  to  reading  the 
narrative  consecutively,  and  render  it  more  fit  to  be  con 
sulted  as  a  dictionary  than  as  a  work  of  amusement.  The 
form  is  like  Bayle's,  but  not  the  spirit.  Scarce  any  article 
rises  above  mere  compilation." — Egerton  Brydges,  Auto 
biography,  vol.  i.  p.  99. 

13.  The  Lives  of  the  Poets  of  Great  Britain  and  Ireland 
to  the  'Time  of  Dean  Swift.     Compiled  from  ample  materials 
scattered  in  a  variety  of  books,  and  especially  from  the  MS. 
notes  of  the  late  ingenious  Mr.  Coxeter  and  others,  collected 
for    this    design,    by    Mr.    [Tbeopbilus]    Gibber.     In    four 
volumes.     1753.     [The  title-pages  of  vols.  ii.,  iii.,  iv.,  and 
v.  read  "  By  Mr.  Gibber,  and  other  hands."] 

"  It  was  undertaken  on  the  foundation  of  a  copy  of 
Langbain's  Lives,  which  was  bought  at  the  sale  of  Coxeter's 
books.  ...  It  is,  to  say  no  worse  of  it,  an  insignificant 
performance." — B 

14.  A  Catalogue  of  the  Royal  and  Noble  Authors  of  Eng 
land,  with  Lists  of  their  Works.    [Horace  Walpole.]    Printed 
at  Strawberry  Hill.     1758. 

"  The  matter  it  contains  is  curious  and  important;  the 
language  polished,  nervous,  and  pointed;  the  sentiments 
impartial,  liberal,  noble." — B. 

15.  Ike  Biographical  Dictionary.   1761.  Twelve  volumes. 
"  Whatsoever   degree  of  merit   there  may   be  in   this 

compilation,  it  seems  due  to  the  booksellers,  who  appear 
frequently  to  have  used  printed  copies  of  former  publica- 


296  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

tions,   without  the  assistance  of  an  author,   or   even  a 
transcriber." — B. 

1 6.  Companion  to  the  Playhouse.     1764.     Two  volumes. 
".  .  .  contains     a     better     and     more     comprehensive 

account  of  our  dramatic  poets  and  their  works,  than  any 
other  book  in  the  English  language  [to  1/77]." — B. 

17.  Biographia  Liter  aria  ;    or  a  Bio *  graphical  History  of 
Literature  :    containing  the  Lives  of  English,  Scottish,  and 
Irish  authors  from  the  Dawn  of  letters  in  these  Kingdoms  to 
the  present  time,   chronologically  and  classically  arranged. 
[John  Berkenhout,  M.D.    1777.]     Only  vol.  i.  (from  the 
beginning  of  the  fifth  to  the  end  of  the  sixteenth  century) 
was  issued. 

The  work  is  of  no  great  intrinsic  merit.  It  is  chiefly 
of  interest  because  of  the  remarks  made  by  Dr.  Berkenhout 
upon  previous  biographical  compilations.  Where  these 
have  seemed  just  and  to  the  point,  they  have  been  quoted 
in  the  present  volume,  and  marked  "  B."  This  much  of 
Berkenhout's  labour  deserves  preservation. 


Ill 

ENGLISH   AUTOBIOGRAPHIES 

These  lists  are  adapted,  with  corrections,  by  kind  per 
mission,  from  Burr's >(Ihe  Autobiography.  N.B. — To  place 
an  autobiographer  in  correct  chronology,  it  is  obvious  that 
the  date  given  must  be  that  of  his  death.  Yet  it  often 
happens  that  a  man  may  cover  a  certain  era  in  his  auto 
biography,  and  be  therein  connected  with  a  certain  group, 
and  then  live  so  many  years  after  writing  it  that  the  date 
of  his  death,  taken  by  itself,  would  seem  to  connect  him 
with  a  wholly  different  epoch.  Where  two  dates  are  given, 
the  second  is  that  of  the  publication  of  the  autobiography. 


APPENDIX  297 

LIST  I.   (CONTAINING  GROUPS  i,  2,  AND  3) 

Our  first  four  names  are  those  of  writers  whose  auto 
biographies  are  brief,  mere  terse  accounts  of  events  domestic 
or  political: 

died 

Thomas  Tusser    ....      1580 
Sir  Thomas  Bodley       .          .          .1613 
Richard  Vennar  .          .          .          .     1615  (?) 
Lucy  Hutchinson         .         »     after  1675 

In  twenty-five  years  more  we  find  a  group  of  detailed 
and  subjective  self-studies  (*),  of  which  Blair  and  his 
friends  are  definitely  religious.  This  is  a  group  entirely 
apart  from  the  Quakers.  Those  marked  (f)  are  of  political 
and  objective  chroniclers  merely.  Note  that  out  of 
eighteen  autobiographies,  but  eight  deserve  to  be  termed 
self-studies.  Groups  I,  2,  and  3  are  determined  partly 
by  date,  partly  by  a  certain  family  likeness  in  style: 

GROUP  r 

died 

Margaret  of  Newcastle          .         .  1674 

•Lord  Herbert  of  Cherbury    .          .  1648 

•Simonds  D'Ewes          .         .         .  1650 

•Sir  Kenelm  Digby         .          .          .  1665 

*Robert  Blair        ....  1666 

fLord  Clarendon  ....  1674 

*James  Fraser  of  Brae  .         .         .  1699 

•John  Livingstone         .         .         .  1672 

GROUP  2 

Walter  Pringle    ....     1667 

Lady  Fanshawe  .         .         .     1680 

William  Lilly       ....     1681 

tLord  Shaft esbury         .         .         .1683 


298  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

GROUP  3 

t  James  Melvill      ....  1617  (1683) 

tSir  John  Reresby          .         .          .  1689 
*Richard  Baxter  .          .         .         .1691 

tjohn  Bramston  ....  1700 

Anne,  Lady  Halkett    .          .         .  1699 

*John  Bunyan      ....  1688 


LIST  II.  ("CONSISTING  OF  GROUP  4,  ENGLISH  QUAKERS) 

GROUP  4 

The  English  Quakers  here  listed  form  a  continuous 
and  compact  group,  running  steadily,  without  variation 
in  manner  or  method,  as  late  as  1840: 

Seventeenth  Century  ^  •  ^ 

John  Audland     ....  1663 

Samuel  Fisher     ....  1665 

Richard  Farnsworth    .         .          .  1666 

William  Caton     ....  1665 

John  Crook          .         .         .         .  1699 

Stephen  Crisp      ....  1694 

Edward  Burroughs      .         .         .  1662 

James  Parnel      ....  1656 

Isaac  Pennington         .         .         .  1679 

Alexander  Jaffray        .         .         .  1673 

William  Dewsbury       .         .         .  1688 

Charles  Marshall.         .         .         .  1698 

Francis  Howgill  ....  1669 

George  Fox         ....  1691 
Dr.  John  Rutty  .... 
William  Evans    .... 

Alice  Ellis 

John  Wibur        .... 


APPENDIX  299 

Eighteenth  Century        ^g^ 

Gilbert  Latey  .  .  .  .1705 
Elizabeth  Stirredge  .  .  .  1706 
Alice  Hayes  ....  1720 
Margaret  Fox  ....  1702 
Richard  Claridge  .  .  .1723 
Richard  Da  vies  ....  1708 
Thomas  Ell  wood  .  .  .1713 
John  Banks  ....  1710 
William  Edmundson  .  .  .  1712 
Christopher  Story  .  .  .  1720 
George  Whitehead  .  .  .  1723 
Thomas  Story  ....  1742 
Samuel  Bownas  ....  1753 
James  Dickinson  .  .  .  1741 
John  Woolman  ....  1772 
Thomas  Chalkley  .  .  .1741 
Elizabeth  Ashbridge  .  .  .  1775 

Job  Scott 1793 

James  Gough  ....  1712 
Oliver  Sansom  .  .  .  .1710 

Nineteenth  Century 

Jane  Pearson  .  .  .  .1816 
Abraham  Shackleton  .  .  .1818 
Henry  Hull  ....  1834 
Thomas  Shillitoe  .  .  .  1836 
Daniel  Wheeler  .  .  .  .1840 


LIST  III.  (CONTAINING  GROUPS  5  AND  6) 

Contemporaneous  with  List  II.  (Group  4)  is  the  first 
small  group  of  genuinely  scientific  self-students  (*).  Seven 
names  are  similar  in  idea  and  in  method,  of  whom  the 
greatest  is  Franklin.  Of  the  remaining  names,  we  find 


300  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

four  writing  religious  confessions  wholly  independent  as 
to  creed  (f): 

Gilbert  Burnet    .          .          .          . 

•John  Flamsteed  .         .         .         .1719 

William  Taswell  .         .         .         .1731 

*Edmund  Calamy          .         .         .1732 

+John  Dunton      .         .         .         -1733 

•Roger  North       .  1734 

t  William  Whiston          .         .         .1752 

Colley  Gibber       .         .          .         .1757 

Charlotte  Charke          .         .          .     1760  (?) 

George  Psalmanazar    .         .         .     1763 

•David  Hume       ....     1776 

Thomas  Newton.          .         .          .1782 

•Benjamin  Franklin      .         .         .     1790 

Mary  Robinson  ....     1800 

•Edward  Gibbon  ....     1794 

Theobald  Wolfe  Tone  .         .          .1798 

William  Henry  Ireland         .         .     1835 

•Joseph  Priestley.          .         .          .     1804 

tGeorge  Whitefield         .         .          .     1770 

tHenry  Alline       ....     1784 


LIST  IV.  (CONTAINING  GROUPS  7  AND  8) 

Imitators  of  Franklin  and  of  Gibbon  (*)  form  a  defined 
Group  from  1809  to  1826.  There  is  also  a  subsidiary 
Group  (f)  of  literary  self-analysers,  religious  and  intro 
spective  in  tone.  Out  of  twenty  -eight  names,  twenty 
are  strongly  subjective,  approaching  the  zenith  of  self- 
study  in  English.  The  List  covers  about  fifty  years: 

died 

•Thomas  Holcroft          .         .         .     1809 

Richard  Cumberland    .         .         .1811 

•William  Hutton  .         .         .         .1815 

•Richard  Edgeworth     .         .         .     1817 


APPENDIX  301 

died 

*  James  Lackington  .  .  .  1815 
•Samuel  Romilly  ....  1818 
tWilliam  Hayley  .  .  .  .1820 

Arthur  Young  ....  1820 
•Catherine  Cappe.  .  .  .  1821 
•Thomas  Bewick  .  .  .  .1828 
•William  Gifford  .  .  .  .1826 

Alexander  Carlyle         .          .          .     1805  (1860) 

Walter  Scott  .  .  .  .1832 
tEgerton  Brydges  .  .  .  1837 
tjohn  Gait 1839 

James  Hogg        ....     1835 

Robert  Burns  ....  1796 
tSir  Capell  Lofft  .  .  .  .1824 
tjoseph  Blanco  White  .  .  .  1841 

Robert  Southey  .  .  .  .1843 
fBenjamin  Robert  Haydon  .  .  1846 
•Samuel  Roberts  .  .  .  .1848 
tWilliam  Wordsworth  .  .  .  1850 
fLeigh  Hunt  ....  1859 

Thomas  De  Quincey  .  .  .  1859 
•Ann  Gilbert  .  '  .  .  .1866 
tSamuel  T.  Coleridge  .  .  .1834 
•Robert  and  William  Chambers  .  1871-83 

LIST  V.  (CONSISTING  OF  GROUP  9,  THE  SCIENTIFIC, 
1850-1900) 

A  clearly  defined  contemporary  Group: 
Charles  Darwin  Charles  Bray 

Thomas  Henry  Huxley  Harriet  Martineau 

Alexander  Bain  Frances  Power  Cobbe 

Herbert  Spencer  Mark  Pattison 

John  Stuart  Mill  Edmund  Gosse 

Alfred  Russel  Wallace  George   John   Romanes 

Charles  Babbage  (Diary) 

Frederic  Harrison 


302 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


LIST  VI.  (MISCELLANEOUS,  1850-1900) 

The  only  cluster  approaching  a  Group  is  the  Literary- 
Artistic  formed  about  the  Pre-Raphaelite  movement  (*). 
Important  subjective  cases  are  marked  (t): 


Anthony  W.  Trollop e 

fAnnie  Besant 
Walter  Besant 
Lord  Brougham 
Lord  Campbell 
Mrs.  Eliza  Fletcher 
William  Powell  Frith 

tElizabeth  Grant 

fAugustus  J.  C.  Hare 

*W.  Holman  Hunt 
Henry  Layard 
Col.  Meadows  Taylor 
Lord  Roberts 
F.  Locker-Lampson 
William  C.  Macready 

fCardinal  Newman 

*W.  M.  Rossetti 

fMargaret  O.  W.  Oliphant 


*J.  Addington  Symonds 

Zerah  Colburn 

Lady  Morgan 

George  Harris 
*George  Moore 

Ulysses  S.  Grant 

Andrew  White 
*John  Ruskin 

Samuel  Smiles 

Lord  Wolseley 
fF.  W.  Newman 

John  Freeman  Clarke 

Louis  Agassiz 

Mrs.  Charles  Bagot 
tjohn  Beattie  Crozier 
tC.  G.  Finney 
fPhilip  Gilbert  Hamerton 


IV 
SHAKESPEARE  IN  BIOGRAPHY 

I.  The  first  attempt  to  write  a  biography  of  Shakespeare 
was  made  by  Thomas  Fuller.  The  following  is  the  text  as 
printed  in  the  Worthies  of  England,  1662: 

"  William  Shakespeare  was  born  at  Stratford-on-Avon  in  this 
[Warwick]  county;  in  whom  three  eminent  poets  may  seem  in  some 
sort  to  be  compounded,  i.  Martial,  in  the  warlike  sound  of  his 
surname  (whence  some  may  conjecture  him  of  a  military  extraction) 
Hasti-vibrans  or  Shake-speare.  2.  Ovid,  the  most  natural  and  witty 


APPENDIX  303 

of  all  poets;   and  hence  it  was  that  Queen  Elizabeth,  coming  into  a 
grammar  school,  made  this  extempory  verse: 

'  Persius  a  crab-staff,  Bawdy  Martial,  Ovid  a  fine  wag.' 

3.  Plautus,  who  was  an  exact  comedian,  yet  never  any  scholar,  as  our 
Shakespeare  (if  alive)  would  confess  himself.  Add  to  all  these,  that 
though  his  genius  generally  was  jocular,  and  inclining  him  to  festi 
vity,  yet  he  could  (when  so  disposed)  be  solemn  and  serious,  as 
appears  by  his  tragedies;  so  that  Heraclitus  himself  (I  mean  if  secret 
and  unseen)  might  afford  to  smile  at  his  comedies,  they  were  so 
merry ;  and  Democritus  scarce  forbear  to  sigh  at  his  tragedies,  they 
were  so  mournful.  He  was  an  eminent  instance  of  the  truth  of  the 
rule,  Poeta  non  fit,  sed  nascitur  ;  one  is  not  made  but  born  a  poet. 
Indeed  his  learning  was  very  little,  so  that,  as  Cornish  diamonds  are 
not  polished  by  any  lapidary,  but  are  pointed  and  smoothed  even  as 
they  are  taken  out  of  the  earth,  so  Nature  itself  was  all  the  art  which 
was  used  upon  him.  Many  were  the  wit-combats  betwixt  him  and 
Ben  Jonson;  which  two  I  beheld  like  a  Spanish  great  galleon  and 
an  English  man  of  war:  Master  Jonson  (like  the  former)  was  built 
far  higher  in  learning;  solid  but  slow  in  his  performances,  Shake 
speare,  with  the  English  man  of  war,  lesser  in  bulk,  but  lighter  in 
sailing,  could  turn  with  all  tides,  tack  about,  and  take  advantage 
of  all  winds,  by  the  quickness  of  his  wit  and  invention.  He  died  anno 
Domini  16 — ,  and  was  buried  at  Stratford  upon  Avon,  the  town  of 
his  nativity." 

2.  Next  in  order  is  the  sketch  by  John  Aubrey.  The 
text  is  that  of  Clark's  Aubrey's  "  Brief  Lives"  vol.  ii. 
pp.  225-27: 

"  Mr.  William  Shakespear  was  borne  at  Stratford  upon  Avon  in 
the  county  of  Warwick.  His  father  was  a  butcher,  and  I  have  been 
told  heretofore  by  some  of  the  neighbours,  that  when  he  was  a  boy 
he  exercised  his  father's  trade,  but  when  he  kill'd  a  calfe  he  would  doe 
it  in  a  high  style,  and  make  a  speech.  There  was  at  that  time  another 
butcher's  son  in  this  towne  that  was  held  not  at  all  inferior  to  him 
for  a  naturall  witt,  his  acquaintance  and  coetanean,  but  dyed  young. 

"  This  William  being  inclined  naturally  to  poetry  and  acting,  came 
to  London,  I  guesse,  about  18 ;  and  was  an  actor  at  one  of  the  play 
houses,  and  did  act  exceedingly  well  (now  B.  Johnson  was  never  a 
good  actor,  but  an  excellent  instructor). 

"  He  began  early  to  make  essayes  at  dramatique  poetry,  which  at 
that  time  was  very  lowe;  and  his  playes  tooke  well. 


• 


304  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

"  He  was  a  handsome,  well-shap't  man;  very  good  company,  and  of 
a  very  readie  and  pleasant  smooth  witt. 

"The  humour  of  ...  the  constable,  in  Midsomernight' s  Dreame, 
he  happened  to  take  at  Grendon  in  Bucks — I  thinke  it  was  Mid- 
somer  night  that  he  happened  to  lye  there — which  is  the  roade  from 
London  to  Stratford,  and  there  was  living  that  constable  about  1642, 
when  I  first  came  to  Oxon:  Mr.  Josias  Howe  is  of  that  parish,  and 
knew  him.  Ben  Johnson  and  he  did  gather  humours  of  men  dayly 
where  ever  they  came.  One  night  as  he  was  at  the  tavern  at  Stratford 
super  Avon,  one  Combes,  an  old  rich  userer,  was  to  be  buryed,  he 
makes  there  this  extemporary  epitaph: 

Ten  in  the  hundred  the  Devill  allowes, 

But  Combes  will  have  twelve,  he  sweares  and  vowes: 

If  any  one  askes  who  lies  in  this  tombe, 

'  Hoh! '  quoth  the  Devill,  '  'Tis  my  John  o  Combe.' 

"  He  was  wont  to  goe  to  his  native  couatrey  once  a  yeare.  I  thinke 
1  have  been  told  that  he  left  2  or  300  /».  per  annum  there  and  there 
about  to  a  sister.  Vide  his  epitaph  in  Dugdale's  Warwickshire. 

"  I  have  heard  Sir  William  Davcnant  and  Mr.  Thomas  Shad  well 
(who  is  counted  the  best  comoedian  we  have  now)  say  that  he  had 
a  most  prodigious  witt,  and  did  admire  his  naturall  parts  beyond 
all  other  dramaticall  writers.  He  was  wont  to  say  (B.  Johnson's 
Underwoods)  that  he  '  never  blotted  out  a  line  in  his  life ' ;  sayd 
Ben:  Johnson,  '  I  wish  he  had  blotted-out  a  thousand.' 

"  His  comoedies  will  remaine  witt  as  long  as  the  English  tongue  is 
understood,  for  that  he  handles  mores  hominum.  Now  our  present 
writers  reflect  so  much  upon  particular  persons  and  coxcombeities, 
that  twenty  yeares  hence  they  will  not  be  understood. 

"Though,  as  Ben:  Johnson  sayes  of  him,  that  he  had  but  little 
Latine  and  lesse  Greek  he  understood  Latine  pretty  well,  for  he  had 
been  in  his  younger  yeares  a  schoolmaster  in  the  countrey. — from 
Mr.  ...  Beeston." 

3.  We  may  next  examine  the  sketch  in  Langbaine's 
English  Dramatic  Poets,  1691.  It  will  be  noticed  that 
Langbaine's  sketch  follows  closely  that  by  Fuller.  The 
date  of  Shakespeare's  death  is  supplied,  together  with  a 
few  additional  facts.  The  portions  which  constitute  a 
criticism  and  an  enumeration  of  the  plays  are  omitted,  as 
not  strictly  relevant  to  our  purpose: 


APPENDIX  305 

"  William  SHAKESPEAR.  One  of  the  most  Eminent  Poets  of  his 
Time;  he  was  born  at  Stratford  upon  Avon  in  Warwickshire  ;  and 
flourished  in  the  Reigns  of  Queen  Elizabeth  and  King  James  the  First. 
His  Natural  Genius  to  Poetry  was  so  excellent,  that  like  those  Dia 
monds,  which  are  found  in  Cornwall,  Nature  had  little,  or  no  occasion 
for  the  Assistance  of  Art  to  polish  it.  The  Truth  is,  'tis  agreed  on  by 
most,  that  his  Learning  was  not  extraordinary;  and  I  am  apt  to 
believe  that  his  skill  in  the  French  and  Italian  tongues,  exceeded  his 
knowledge  in  the  Roman  language.  ...  I  have  now  no  more  to  do, 
but  to  close  up  all,  with  an  Account  of  his  Death;  which  was  on  the 
2 jd  of  April,  Anno  Dom.  1616.  He  lyeth  Buried  in  the  Great  Church 
in  Stratford  upon  Avon  with  his  Wife  and  Daughter  Susanna,  the 
Wife  of  Mr.  John  Hall.  In  the  North  Wall  of  the  Chancel,  is  a 
Monument  fixed  which  represents  his  true  Effigies,  leaning  upon  a 
cushion.  .  .  ." 

4.  The  next  really  important  advance  was  that  made 
by  Nicholas  Rowe  in  his  Some  Account  of  the  Life,  $3c.y  of 
Mr.  William  Shakespeare,  prefixed  to  the  edition  of  the 
Plays,  1709.     This  is  now  easily  accessible  in  D.  Nichol 
Smith's  Eighteenth  Century  Essays  on  Shakespeare.     James 
MacLehose  and  Sons,  Glasgow,  Publishers. 

5.  As  an  example  of  the  manner  in  which  high-flown 
phraseology  was  used  to  conceal  lack  of  information,  we 
give  the  first  part  of  the  sketch  from  Gibber's  Lives  of  the 
Poets,  vol.  i.  pp.  123-24.     The  remainder  simply  adapts 
information  already  known: 

"  There  have  been  some  ages  in  which  providence  seemed  pleased 
in  a  most  remarkable  manner  to  display  itself,  in  giving  to  the  world 
the  finest  genius's  to  illuminate  a  people  formerly  barbarous.  After 
a  long  night  of  Gothic  ignorance,  after  many  ages  of  priestcraft  and 
superstition,  learning  and  genius  visited  our  Island  in  the  days  of 
renowned  Queen  Elizabeth.  It  was  then  that  liberty  began  to  dawn, 
and  the  people  having  shook  off  the  restraints  of  priestly  austerity, 
presumed  to  think  for  themselves.  At  an  Aera  so  remarkable  as  this, 
so  famous  in  history,  it  seems  no  wonder  that  the  nation  should  be 
blessed  with  those  immortal  ornaments  of  wit  and  learning,  who  all 
conspired  at  once  to  make  it  famous. — This  astonishing  genius 
seemed  to  be  commissioned  from  above  to  deliver  us  not  only  from 
the  ignorance  under  which  we  laboured  as  to  poetry,  but  to  carry 
poetry  almost  to  its  perfection.  But  to  write  a  panegyric  on  Shake- 

U 


306  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

spear  appears  as  unnecessary  as  the  attempt  would  be  vain;  for 
whoever  has  any  taste  for  what  is  great,  terrible,  or  tender,  may 
meet  with  the  amplest  gratification  in  Shakespear;  as  may  those  also 
have  a  taste  for  drollery  and  true  humour.  His  genius  was  almost 
boundless,  and  he  succeeded  alike  in  every  part  of  writing.  .  .  . 

All  men  have  discovered  a  curiosity  to  know  the  little  stories  and 
particularities  of  a  great  genius;  for  it  often  happens  that  when  we 
attend  a  man  to  his  closet  and  watch  his  moments  of  solitude,  we 
shall  find  such  expressions  drop  from  him,  or  we  may  observe  such 
instances  of  peculiar  conduct,  as  will  let  us  more  into  his  real  charac 
ter  than  ever  we  can  discover  while  we  converse  with  him  in  publick, 
and  when  perhaps  he  appears  under  a  kind  of  mask.  There  are  but 
few  things  known  of  this  great  man;  few  incidents  of  his  life  have 
descended  to  posterity,  and  tho'  no  doubt  the  fame  of  his  abilities 
made  a  great  noise  in  the  age  in  which  he  flourished,  yet  his  station 
was  not  such  as  to  produce  many  incidents,  as  it  was  subject  to  but 
few  vicissitudes.  Mr.  Rowe,  who  well  understood  and  greatly  ad 
mired  Shakespear,  has  been  at  pains  to  collect  what  incidents  were 
known,  or  were  to  be  found  concerning  him,  and  it  is  chiefly  upon 
Mr.  Rowe's  authority  we  build  the  account  now  given.  ..." 

6.  The  sketch  which  appeared  in  the  Biographia 
Britannic  a  is  not  generally  accessible.  It  is  worth  while 
to  reprint  it  as  summarising  the  knowledge  in  regard  to 
Shakespeare  to  the  date  of  its  publication,  as  well  as  show 
ing  the  state  of  biographical  dictionaries  at  that  time. 
The  text  is  taken  from  the  first  edition  of  vol.  vi.  part  i. 
pp.  3627-39;  its  date,  1763.  The  text  is  given  in  full; 
the  footnotes,  which  are  highly  interesting,  but  unnecessary 
for  our  purpose,  are  omitted:  they  refer  to  all  preceding 
published  accounts: 

"  Shakespeare  [William]  was  descended  of  a  gentleman's  family, 
at  Stratford  upon  Avon,  in  the  county  of  Warwick;  but  his  father 
entering  into  the  wool-trade,  dealt  considerably  that  way.  He 
married  the  daughter  and  one  of  the  heirs  of  Robert  Arden,  of 
Wellingcote  in  the  same  county.  This  gentlewoman  brought  him  ten 
children,  of  whom  our  poet  was  the  eldest,  being  born  in  April  1564. 
At  a  proper  age  he  was  put  to  the  free-school  in  Stratford,  where 
he  acquired  the  rudiments  of  Grammar-learning.  Whether  he  dis 
covered  at  this  time  any  extraordinary  genius  or  inclination  for  the 


APPENDIX  307 

Classics,  is  very  uncertain;  to  make  the  best  of  any,  he  might  be 
endued  with,  in  that  kind,  was  not  the  point  in  his  father's  view.  He 
had  no  design  to  make  a  scholar  of  his  son,  but,  on  the  contrary,  took 
him  early  from  school  into  his  own  business.  He  did  not  continue 
very  long  in  this  employ,  as  a  minor,  under  the  immediate  guidance 
of  his  father;  he  resolved  to  write  man  sooner  than  ordinary,  and 
at  seventeen  years  of  age  married  a  woman  of  twenty-five.  However, 
in  respect  to  fortune,  it  was  no  imprudent  match;  and  thus  young 
Shakespeare  not  only  commenced  master  of  a  family,  but  became 
father  of  two  if  not  three  children,  before  he  was  out  of  his  minority. 
So  settled,  he  had  no  other  thoughts  than  of  pursuing  the  wool -trade, 
when  happening  to  fall  into  acquaintance  with  some  persons,  who 
followed  the  practice  of  deer-stealing,  he  was  prevailed  upon  to 
engage  with  them  in  robbing  Sir  Thomas  Lucy's  park,  at  Cherlcot 
near  Stratford.  The  injury  being  repeated  more  than  once,  that 
gentleman  was  provoked  to  enter  a  prosecution  against  the  delin 
quents;  and  Shakespeare  in  revenge  made  him  the  subject  of  a 
ballad,  which  tradition  says  (for  unluckily  the  piece  is  lost)  was 
pointed  with  so  much  bitterness,  that  it  became  unsafe  for  the 
author  to  stay  any  longer  in  the  country.  To  escape  the  hands  of  the 
Law,  he  fled  to  London,  where,  as  might  be  expected  from  a  man  of 
wit  and  humour  in  his  circumstances,  he  threw  himself  among  the 
players.  Thus,  at  length,  this  grand  luminary  was  driven,  by  a  very 
untoward  accident,  into  his  genuine  and  proper  sphere  of  shining  in 
the  universe.  His  first  admission  into  the  play-house  was  suitable  to 
his  appearance;  a  stranger,  unacquainted  and  uninformed  in  this 
art,  he  was  glad  to  be  taken  into  the  company  in  a  very  mean  rank. 
Neither  did  his  performance  recommend  him  to  any  distinguished 
notice.  The  part  of  an  actor  neither  engaged  nor  deserved  his 
attention;  it  was  very  far  from  filling,  or  being  adequate  to,  the 
prodigious  powers  of  his  mind :  he  turned  the  advantage  which  that 
situation  afforded  him,  to  a  higher  and  nobler  use;  and  having,  by 
practice  and  observation,  acquainted  himself  with  the  mechanical 
part  of  the  theatre,  his  native  genius  inspired  all  the  other  most 
essentially  superior  qualities  of  a  play-wright.  But  the  whole  view 
of  this  first  attempt  in  stage-poetry  being  to  procure  a  subsistence, 
he  directed  his  endeavours  solely  to  hit  the  taste  and  humour  that 
then  prevailed  amongst  the  meaner  sort  of  people,  of  whom  the 
audience  was  generally  composed;  and  therefore  his  images  of  life 
were  drawn  from  those  of  that  rank.  These  had  no  notion  of  the 
rules  of  writing,  or  the  model  of  the  Ancients.  Shakespeare  also  set 
out  without  the  advantage  of  education,  and  without  the  advice  or 
assistance  of  the  learned;  equally  without  the  patronage  of  the 

U  2 


3o8  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

better  sort,  as  without  any  acquaintance  among  them.  But  when  his 
performances  had  merited  the  protection  of  his  Prince,  and  the 
encouragement  of  the  Court  had  succeeded  to  that  of  the  Town,  the 
works  of  his  riper  years  are  manifestly  raised  above  those  of  his 
former.  The  dates  of  his  plays  sufficiently  evidence,  that  his  produc 
tions  improved,  in  proportion  to  the  respect  he  had  for  his  auditors. 
In  this  way  of  writing  he  was  an  absolute  original,  and  of  such  a 
peculiar  cast,  as  hath  perpetually  raised  and  confounded  the  emula 
tion  of  his  successors;  a  compound  of  such  very  singular  blemishes 
as  well  as  beauties,  that  these  latter  have  not  more  mocked  the  toil 
of  every  aspiring  undertaker  to  emulate  them  than  the  former,  as 
flaws  intimately  united  to  the  diamonds,  have  baffled  every  attempt 
of  the  cunningest  artists  to  take  them  out,  without  spoiling  the  whole. 
Queen  Elizabeth,  who  shewed  Shakespeare  many  marks  of  her 
favour,  was  so  much  pleased  with  the  delightful  character  of  Sir 
John  Falstaff,  in  the  two  parts  of  Henry  IV.  that  she  commanded 
the  author  to  continue  it  for  one  play  more,  and  to  shew  the  Knight 
in  love,  which  he  executed  inimitably  in  The  Merry  Wives  of  Windsor. 
Among  his  other  patrons,  the  Earl  of  Southampton  is  particularly 
honoured  by  him,  in  the  dedications  of  two  poems,  Venus  and 
A  donis,  and  Lucrece  ;  in  the  latter  especially  he  expresses  himself  in 
such  terms,  as  gives  countenance  to  what  is  related  of  that  patron's 
distinguished  generosity  to  him.  In  the  beginning  of  King  James 
the  First's  reign  (if  not  sooner)  he  was  one  of  the  principal  managers 
of  the  play-house,  and  continued  in  it  several  years  afterwards ;  till 
having  acquired  such  a  fortune  as  satisfied  his  moderate  wishes  and 
views  in  life,  he  quitted  the  stage,  and  all  other  business,  and  passed 
the  remainder  of  his  time  in  an  honourable  ease,  among  the  conversa 
tion  of  his  friends,  at  his  native  town  of  Stratford,  with  the  gentlemen 
of  the  neighbourhood,  to  whom  his  pleasurable  and  good  nature 
rendered  him  very  agreeable.  He  lived  in  a  very  handsome  house  of 
his  own  purchasing  to  which  he  gave  the  name  of  New  Place;  and 
he  had  the  good  fortune  to  save  it  from  flames,  in  the  dreadful 
fire  that  consumed  the  greatest  part  of  the  town,  in  1614.  It  is  very 
probable,  he  did  not  much  exercise  his  talent  in  poetry,  after^his 
retirement.  In  the  beginning  of  the  year  1616  he  made  his  Will, 
wherein  he  testified  his  respect  to  his  quondam  partners  in  the 
theatre;  he  appointed  his  youngest  daughter,  jointly  with  her 
husband,  his  executors,  and  bequeathed  to  them  the  best  part  of  his 
estate,  which  they  came  into  the  possession  of  not  long  after.  He 
died  on  the  23d  of  April  following,  being  the  fifty-third  year  of  his 
age,  and  was  interred  among  his  ancestors,  on  the  north  side  of  the 
Chancel,  in  the  great  church  of  Stratford,  where  there  is  a  handsome 


APPENDIX  309 

monument  erected  for  him,  inscribed  with  a  simple  elegiac  distich  in 
Latin.  In  the  year  1740,  another  noble  and  most  beautiful  one  was 
raised  to  his  memory,  at  the  public  expence,  in  Westminster  abbey; 
an  ample  contribution  for  this  purpose  being  made,  upon  exhibiting 
his  tragedy  of  Julius  Caesar  at  the  theatre-royal  in  Drury  Lane, 
April  the  28th,  1738.  Seven  years  after  his  death,  his  plays  were 
collected  and  published  in  1623,  in  folio,  by  two  of  his  principal 
friends  in  the  company  of  comedians,  Heninge  and  Condale;  who 
likewise  corrected  a  second  edition  in  folio,  in  1632.  Though  both 
these  editions  were  extremely  faulty,  yet  no  other  was  attempted 
till  1714,  when  a  third  edition  was  published  in  8vo  by  Mr. 
Nicholas  Rowe,  but  with  few  if  any  corrections;  only  he  prefixed 
some  account  of  our  author's  life  and  writings,  the  materials  of  the 
first  of  which  were  communicated  to  him  by  Mr.  Betterton,  the 
celebrated  Comedian,  who  made  a  journey  to  Stratford,  purposely 
to  learn  something  further  concerning  a  man,  to  whom  both  he  and 
all  the  world  were  so  much  indebted.  But  the  plays  being  in  the  same 
mangled  condition  as  at  first,  Mr.  Pope  was  prevailed  upon  to  under 
take  the  task  of  clearing  away  the  rubbish,  and  reducing  them  into  a 
better  order;  and  accordingly  he  printed  a  new  edition  of  them  in 
1721,  in  4to.  Yet  neither  did  this  give  satisfaction,  and  the  perform 
ance  only  discovered  the  editor  to  be  a  better  poet  than  he  was  a 
critic;  at  least  of  Shakespeare's  genius.  Hereupon  Mr.  Theobald, 
after  many  years  spent  in  the  same  task,  published  a  piece  called 
Shakespeare  restored,  in  1726,  in  8vo,  which  was  followed  by 
another  new  edition  of  his  plays  in  1733,  by  the  same  author, 
who  therein  carried  the  design  of  his  first  piece  much  farther. 
In  1744,  Sir  Thomas  Hanmer,  Bart.,  published  at  Oxford  a 
pompous  edition,  with  emendations,  in  six  volumes,  4to.  To  these 
Mr.  Warburton,  now  Lord  Bishop  of  Gloucester,  added  still  another 
new  edition,  with  a  great  number  of  corrections,  in  1747.  And  Mr. 
Theobald  published  his  edition  a  second  time,  with  several  altera 
tions,  in  1757.  There  has  appeared  very  lately  this  year,  1760,  an 
historical  play,  intituled,  The  Raigne  of  Edward  the  Third,  6-c., 
which  is  ascribed  to  Shakespeare  upon  these  three  concurring  circum 
stances,  the  date,  the  stile,  and  the  plan,  which  is  taken,  as  several 
of  Shakespeare's  are,  from  Holingshead,  and  a  book  of  novels,  called 
The  Palace  of  Pleasure.  Thus  new  monuments  are  continually  rising 
to  honour  Shakespeare's  genius  in  the  learned  world;  and  we  must 
not  conclude,  without  adding  another  testimony  of  the  veneration 
paid  to  his  manes  by  the  publick  in  general:  which  is,  that  a  mul 
berry-tree,  planted  upon  his  estate  by  the  hands  of  this  revered  bard, 
was  cut  down  not  many  years  ago,  and  the  wood  being  converted 


310  ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 

into  several  domestic  uses,  these  were  all  eagerly  bought  at  a  high 
price,  and  each  single  one  treasured  up  by  its  purchaser  as  a  precious 
memorial  of  Shakespeare's  memory." 

7.  With  the  preceding,  the  reader  will  find  interest  in 
comparing  the  latest  and  best  attempt,  that  of  Sir  Sidney 
Lee  in  his  A  Life  of  William  Shakespeare,  1898;  new  and 
revised  edition,  1915.  In  the  Appendix  to  his  work,  Mr. 
Lee  gives  a  list  of  all  available  sources  which  throw  light 
on  the  life  of  Shakespeare. 


The  nineteenth  century  was  rich  in  biographical  dic 
tionaries.  The  culmination  of  such  works  was,  of  course, 
the  Dictionary  of  National  Biography.  Maitland,  in  the 
Life  and  Letters  of  Leslie  Stephen,  p.  365,  cites  the  follow 
ing  estimate  of  the  D.  N.  B.,  from  Ch.  Petit-Dutaillis' 
Revue  de  Synthese  historique  (1904),  p.  360:  "  Ni  notre 
Biographie  universelle,  ni  notre  Biographie  generale  ni  les 
articles  fort  inegaux  de  notre  Grande  Encyclopedic  ne 
peuvent  £tre  compares  a  ce  monument  d' erudition  generale- 
ment  tres  sure." 

For  a  complete  list  (to  the  date  of  its  publication)  of 
all  biographical  compilations  in  the  English  language, 
consult  The  Dictionary  of  Biographical  Reference  .  .  . 
together  with  a  Classed  Index  of  the  Biographical  Literature 
of  Europe  and  America.  By  Lawrence  B.  Phillips.  London, 
1871.  See  also  A  Handbook  to  the  Literature  of  General 
Biography.  By  Edward  Edwards  and  Charles  Hole.  1885. 

No  complete  bibliography  of  English  biography  has  ever 
been  made.  It  is  a  question  whether  such  a  bibliography 
would  be  practicable,  containing,  as  it  would,  hundreds  of 
well-nigh  worthless  narratives.  For  a  brief  bibliography 
of  selected  biography  consult  Thomas  Nelson  and  Sons' 
Standard  Books. 


INDEX 


INDEX 


A  eta  Sanctorum,  248 

Adam,  Abbot  of  Eynsham,  Mag- 
na  Vita  St.  Hugonis,  22-25,  27 

Adamnan,  xii,  241,  265;  Life  of 
St.  Columba,  xix,  3-5,  236,  266 

Addison,  Joseph,  on  Grub  Street 
biographers,  83-84,  85;  his 
style,  92;  on  contemporary 
biography,  118 

Aelf  ric,  1 1 ;  Lives  of  Saints,  30 

Aitken,  George  A.,  Life  of  Steele, 
no,  186 

Alan  of  Tewkesbury,  Life  of 
Becket,  22 

Alfieri,  259,  260 

Allen,  A.  V.  G.,  Life  of  Brooks, 
179-80,  235,  262,  271 

Amyot,  Jacques,  and  Plutarch, 
243.  285 

Andersen,  Hans,  261 

Anderson,  Dr.  Robert,Lt/ieo//oA«- 
son,  concerning  Boswell,  121-23 

Appleton's  Cyclopedia  of  Ameri 
can  Biography,  195 

Armagh,  Book  of,  5,  6 

Asser  of  St.  David's,  Life  of  King 
Alfred,  2,  11-14,  15-16;  113 

"  Astronomer,"  The,  Life  of 
Ludwig,  1 6 

Athanaeus,  245 

Athanasius,  Life  of  St.  Anthony, 
241 

Aubrey,  John,  39,  117;  as  a  bio 
grapher,  59-61;  his  Brief 
Lives,  59-60,  81;  letters  to 
Anthony  Wood,  60,  81,  124; 
and  coffee-houses,  59,  81,  82; 
and  James  Boswell,  61,  124 

Augustine,  Bishop  of  Hippo,  254, 
258;  Confessions,  141,  254-56 

Autobiography,  first  use  of  word, 
130-31;  first  English,  132-33; 
delayed  publication  of  early 
documents,  1 39-40 ;  culmina 


tion  of  in  eighteenth  century, 
156;  culmination  in  Herbert 
Spencer,  204;  influence  on 
biography,  130,  156,  157  ff.; 
different  from  biography,  xvi- 
xvii,  200 ;  early  manifestations 
of,  251  ff. ;  objective,  252; 
subjective,  256  ff. ;  limitations 
of,  282-84;  lists  of  in  English, 
296-302 

Ayre,  William,  Life  of  Pope,  87; 
quoted,  87-88 

Bacon,  Francis,  laments  scarcity 
of  lives  in  Advancement  of 
Learning,  67-68 ;  Life  of  King 
Henry  VII.,  68;  77,  157 

Bailey,  Nathan,  English  Die- 
tionary,  definitions  of  bio 
graphy,  103 

Baker,  David  Erskine,  Com 
panion  to  the  Playhouse,  57,  296 

Bale,  John,  47,  48,  49,  52,  267, 
288,  289,  291 ;  Quarles'  verses 
on,  288;  his  Dedication  of 
Leyland's  Laboryouse  Journey, 
quoted,  50;  his  Illustrium 
Majoris  Britanniae  Scriptorum 
Summarium,  247,  288;  his 
Index  of  British  Writers,  288 

Bauer,  Karoline,  261 

Baxter,  Richard,  Reliquiae  Box- 
terianae,  144-46,  149,  298 

Bayle,  Pierre,  247 

Becket,  Thomas,  Archbishop  of 
Canterbury,  22 

Bede,  The  Venerable,  n,  17,  20, 
267 ;  anonymous  life  of,  15,  24; 
Ecclesiastical  History  of  Eng 
land,  7,  8,  9,  15,  132,  251;  his 
autobiography,  132-33.  251; 
Life  of  St.  Cuthbert  (in  prose). 
8-1 1,  15,  (in  Latin  verse),  8,  29; 
Lives  of  the  Abbots,  8,  267 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


Benson,   A.    C.,   Life  of  E.    W. 

Benson,  219 
Beowulf,  131 
Berkenhout,     Dr.     John,     Bio- 

graphia     Literaria,     57,     296; 

quoted,  94,  287-96 
Bielschowsky,    Dr.    Albert,    Life 

of  Goethe,  187-88 
Bigelow,  John,  editor  Franklin's 

Autobiography,  152 
BiographiaBritannica,  57, 58, 195, 

294-95;    quoted,  94-95.  294-95 
Biographical    Dictionary    (1761), 

57.  295-96 
Biographic       Universelle,       247, 

250-51 

Biography,  inception  of  and 
general  line  of  development, 
xiii-xiv;  definition  of  true  type, 
xiv-xv;  what  constitutes  ideal 
type,  xv-xvi;  pure  biography, 
xvi,  221;  beginnings  of  in 
English,  1-2;  a  work  of  art, 
193-94;  interest  in,  280;  a 
difficult  form  of  composition, 
280-81;  in  the  future,  286 

Birch,  Tom,  251 

Biryukov,  Life  of  Tolstoi,  250 

Bistrici,  Vespasiano  da,  250 

Blakman,  John,  Collectarium  .  .  . 
Henrici  VI.,  26-27 

Bliss,  Dr.  Philip,  54 

Blount,  Sir  Thomas  P.,  De  Re 
Poetica,  293 

Bodley,  Sir  Thomas,  his  auto 
biography,  137,  138,  297 

Bokenham,  Osbern,  verse  lives  of 
female  saints,  3 1 

Borrow,  George,  Lavengro  and 
The  Romany  Rye,  208 

Boston,  John,  46,  47,  49;  Cata- 
logus  Scriptorum  Ecclesiae,  247, 
287 

^  Bos  well,  James,  xii,  49,  61,  79, 
80,  132,  165,  170,  173,  196,  198, 
220,  233,  244,  271,  274;  not 
a  prodigy  in  biography,  112; 
his  diligence  and  perseverance, 
113-14;  his  method,  114-18; 
and  his  critics,  118-28;  points 
out  ideal  of  biography,  129; 


and  use  of  documents  in  bio 
graphy,  270;  Life  of  Johnson, 
77,  106,  112-29;  relation  to 
Plutarch's  work,  118;  a  work 
of  culmination,  125;  deficien 
cies  of,  126-27;  style  of,  127; 
influence  of,  157-60,  161,  162, 
179;  160,161,166-67,169,171, 
178,  (222,  224,  230,  250,  262, 
268,  279;  Journal  of  Tour  to 
Hebrides,  112,  115,  117 

Bradley,  Henry,  article  "  Thomas 
Dempster,"  D.  N.  B.,  quoted, 
135.  289 

Bradshaw,  Henry,  Life  of  St. 
Werburge  of  Chester,  31 

Brooke,  Rev.  Stopford  A.,  His 
tory  of  Early  English  Litera 
ture,  quoted,  9 

Broughton,  Lord,  205 ;  Recol 
lections  of  a  Long  Life,  206 

Brown,  P.  Hume,  on  Froude's 
Carlyle,  178 

Browne,  Sir  Thomas,  259 

Browning,  Robert,  House,  131 

Brydges,  Sir  Egerton,  57,  158-59, 
203,  209,  210,  211,  295;  Ima 
ginative  Biography,  194 

Bunyan,  John,  Grace  Abounding, 
138,  139,  156,  298 

Burdy,  Rev.  Samuel,  Life  of 
Skelton,  213,  265 

Burnet,  Gilbert,  Life  of  Bedell, 
89;  quoted,  96-97;  107,  117 

Burr,  Anna  Robeson,  258,  259; 
The  A  utobiography,  1 40-4 1 , 
151-52.  155,  201,  204-5,  253, 
255,  256,  260,  261,  262,  296; 
Religious  Confessions  and  Con- 
fessants,  201,  255 

Burton,  Robert,  259 

Caesar,  254,  258;    Commentaries, 

141,  254 
Calamy,  Edmund,  and  Reliquiae 

Baxterianae,  145,  146,  149;   his 

autobiography,  149,  257,  300 
Cambden,    William,    History    of 

Queen  Elizabeth,  68 
Cambridge    History    of    English 

Literature,  quoted,  64-65,  82 


INDEX 


Canning,  George,  Microcosm, 
quoted,  119-20 

Capgrave,  John,  Life  of  St. 
Katharine  of  Alexandria,  31, 
32 

Cardan,  Jerome,  254,  258,  259, 
260;  De  Vita  Propria  Liber, 
141.  256,  259 

Carleton,  George,  Life  of  Bernard 
Gilpin,  xviii 

Carlyle,  Thomas,  187,  190;  re 
view  of  Scott,  162-63,  l65.  J92; 
Essay  on  Burns,  179-80;  Essay 
on  Werner,  164,  182;  Frederick 
the  Great,  188,  190-91;  Crom 
well,  190-92;  Life  of  Sterling, 
xii,  171,  180,  192-93,  222,  226, 
251,  271 ;  Essay  on  Biography, 
250-51 ;  Essay  on  Richter,  281 

Carte,  Thomas,  Life  of  James 
Duke  of  Ormonde,  91 

Cave,  William,  Scriptorum  Eccle- 
siasticorum  Historia  Literaria, 
47,  290 

Cavendish,  George,  xviii,  xix,  45 ; 
Life  of  Wolsey,  44,  63-66;  67, 
71,  214,  269 

Cavendish,  Margaret,  Duchess  of 
Newcastle,  Life  of  Duke  of 
Newcastle,  95-96;  volume  of 
London  letters,  107;  auto 
biographical  fragment,  138-39 

Caxton,  William,  27 

Cellini,  Benvenuto,  256,  260 

Century  Dictionary,  77 

Chambers's  Encyclopedia,  article 
"  Biography,"  quoted,  183, 
193,  224 

Chambers's  Encyclopedia  of  Eng 
lish  Literature,  quoted,  178 

Chandler,  F.  W.,  Literature  of 
Roguery,  85,  86,  100 

Characters,  xix,  xx,  54-56;  popu 
larity  of,  54;  explanation  of, 
54-55;  as  manifestation  of 
the  biographical  spirit,  xix, 
55;  how  they  differ  from 
biography,  55-56;  how  related 
to  biography  and  fiction,  56 

Chaucer,  25,  28 

Chaufepie,  j.  G.  de,  247 


Chiabrera,  260 

Christie,  R.  C.,  article  "  Bio 
graphical  Dictionaries,"  245 

Church,  The,  and  English  bio 
graphy,  i-8,  21-25,  26-27,  29- 
37,  45,  240-41 

Church,  R.  W.,  Saint  Anselm,  21 

Churchill,  W.  S.,  Lord  Randolph 
Churchill,  219 

Churchyard,  Thomas,  his  legend 
of  Cardinal  Wolsey,  38,  39 

Gibber,  Colley,  99,  100,  300 

Cibber,  Theophilus,  Lives  of  the 
Poets,  57,  295 

Clark,  Rev.  Andrew,  editor  of 
Aubrey's  "  Brief  Lives,"  59-60, 
81,  303;  Life  and  Times  of 
Anthony  Wood,  186 

Clark,  Samuel,  Lives  of  Eminent 
Persons,  291-92 

Coleridge,  Samuel,  Biographia 
Literaria,  109,  203 

Collier,  Jeremy,  Great  Dictionary, 

293 
Collier,  J.  P.,  Illustrations  of  Old 

English  Literature,  1 38 
Collingwood,     W.     G.,     Life    of 

Ruskin,  177 
Compilations,     Biographical,     in 

Latin,  287-90 
Compilations,     Biographical,    in 

English,  291-96 
Contemporary  Review,  231 
Cook,  Edward,  Life  of  Ruskin,  235 
Cooke,  William,  Life  of  Johnson, 

112 

Cornhill  Magazine,  249 
Craik,  Sir  Henry,  Life  of  Claren 
don,  217 
Craik's    English    Prose,    quoted, 

7L  73-74 

Crichton  -  Browne,  Sir  James, 
New  Letters  and  Memorials  of 
Jane  Welsh  Carlyle,  175 

Cross,  J.  W.,  Life  of  George  Eliot. 
xii,  173,  180,  182-83 

Cross,  W.  L.,  Development  of  the 
English  Novel,  56,  86,  156 

Curll,  Edmund,  establishes  mod 
ern  biography,  83,  84 

Cynewulf,  1 1 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


David  Copperfield,  228 

Davidson,  Rev.  Thomas,  article, 
"  Biography,"  quoted,  183, 
193,  224-25,  283 

Defoe,  Daniel,  English  novel  and 
biography,  85-86;  Robinson 
Crusoe,  86,  1 55;  Moll  Flanders 
and  Colonel  Jacque,  86 

Dempster,  Thomas,  47;  his 
autobiography,  1 34-36,  268 ; 
Historia  Ecclesiastica  Gentis 
Scotorum,  136,  289 

Dictionary  National  Biography, 
175,  194-95,248,249;  culmina 
tion  of  national  biography, 
310;  quoted,  26,  39,  90,  135, 
161,  195 

Digby,  Sir  Kenelm,  Private 
Memoirs,  142-44,  156,  297 

Dilworth,  W.  H.,  Life  of  Pope,  87 

Dimock,  J.  R,  Magna  Vita 
St.  Hugonis,  22-23 

Diogenes  Laertius,  238,  239,  242, 
243.  245 

Dobson,  Austin,  Eighteenth  Cen 
tury  Studies,  quoted,  io7>  186 

Dowden,  Edwajrd,  Studies  in 
Literature,  quoted,  269 

Dryden,  John,  xi-xii,  68,  82, 
92,  127;  and  translation  of 
Plutarch's  Lives,  77;  first 
employs  word  biography,  xi, 
77,  279;  on  biography,  77-79 

Duntzer,  Heinrich,  Schiller  and 
Goethe,  188 

Eadmer,  Life  of  Anselm,  21 

Earle,  John,  Microcosmography 
(Characters),  54,  55,  56 

Early  English  Text  Society,  and 
lives  of  saints,  29,  30,  31,  36,  37 

Ebers,  George,  261 

Ecgwin  (Egwin),  Bishop  of 
Worcester,  reputed  first  auto- 
biographer,  132 

Eddius  Stephanus,  Life  of  Wil 
frid,  6-7,  107,  267 

Edinburgh  Review,  quoted,  150, 
183,  185,  197-99,  209-10,  280 

Edwards,  Rev.  Edward,  Life  of 
Raleigh,  xvi,  214;  and  Rev. 


Charles     Hole,     Handbook    to 

Literature  of  General  Biography, 

197,  216,  310;   quoted,  214-16, 

223-24,  244,  284-85 
Einhard,     Life    of    Charles    the 

Great,  16 
Eliot,   Charles  W.,  John  Gilley, 

226,  271 
Eloisa  and  Abelard,  Letters  of, 

107 
Elton,  Oliver,  Survey  of  English 

Literature,  193 
Encyclopedia  Britannica,  quoted, 

66,  93,  186-87,  220,  242 
Estienne,    Robert   and   Charles, 

246 
Evelyn,     John,     271;      Life    of 

Margaret  Godolphin,  269 

Felix,  hermit  of  Crowland,  Life 
of  St.  Guthlac,  1 1 

Fiction  and  biography,  36-37,  85- 
86,  99-102,  106,  194,  228-29, 
230;  and  autobiography,  132, 
155-56,  207-8,  228-29 

Field,  Rev.  William,  Memoirs  of 
Samuel  Parr,  quoted,  128-29 

Fielding,  Henry,  Joseph  Andrews 
and  biography,  99-100;  Jona 
than  Wild  as  satire  on  eulo 
gistic  biography,  100-102;  his 
commendation  of  Johnson's 
Life  of  Savage,  105;  Tom 
Jones,  1 06 

Fitzgerald,  Percy,  Life  of  Bos- 
well,  125,  127,  158;  Boswell's 
Autobiography,  132,  173 

Fitz-Stephen,  William,  Life  of 
Becket,  22 

Foote,  Memoirs  of  Samuel,  103 

Forster,  John,  a  professional 
biographer,  183-84;  Life  of 
Dickens,  180-83;  editor  Ex 
aminer,  183;  editor  Lives 
of  Eminent  British  Statesmen, 
184;  Sir  John  Eliot,  Gold 
smith,  Landor,  Swift,  184 

Fox,  George,  Journal,  147-48,  257 

Franklin,  Benjamin,  148,  149, 
156,  202,  208,  257,  262,  272; 
Autobiography,  150-53 


INDEX 


317 


Fraser,  Campbell,  Biographia 
Philosophica,  quoted,  190 

Freytag,  no 

Froude,  James  Anthony,  164, 
182,  223,  271;  Life  of  Carlyle, 
168-79;  highest  summit  of  bio 
graphy  since  Bos  well,  168; 
has  been  misjudged,  168  ff. ; 
dramatic  instinct  exhibited, 
169-71;  chief  outcry  against, 
I7I'73I  why  he  did  not  re 
port  conversation,  173-74;  de 
liberate  errors  in,  174-75; 
Professor  Masson's  complaint, 
175,  and  reluctant  praise,  177; 
Leslie  Stephen's  discriminating 
judgment,  176-77;  testimony 
to  general  truth  of  the  Life, 
177-79;  hopelessness  of  set 
ting  it  aside,  178-79;  quoted, 
191,  192-93,  277;  My  Relations 
with  Carlyle,  172-73;  262,  279 

Fuller,  John,  quoted,  51-52 

Fuller,  Thomas,  58,  268;  on  early 
antiquarians,  48-49;  little  care 
for  dates,  53;  Abel  Redevivus, 
first  biographical  compilation 
in  English,  50-51,  268,  288, 
291;  History  of  Worthies,  51- 
53;  humour  of ,  52;  268,  291 

Gait,  John,  203,  207,  301 
Gaskell,  Mrs.,  Life  of  Bronte,  180 
Gayley,  Charles  Mills,  Beaumont 

the  Dramatist,  227 
Gentleman's    Magazine,    quoted, 

IO2-I03,  112,  121 

Gery,  Robert,  290 

Gesner,  Konrad,  Bibliotheca  Uni- 
versalis,  246 

Gibbon,  Edward,  proposed  Life 
of  Raleigh,  91 ;  and  new  era 
in  autobiography,  149;  Auto 
biography,  pieced  together,  153; 
emphasis  on  unity  in  auto 
biography,  153-54;  156,  202, 
208,  262,  272 

Gildon,  Charles,  58;  English 
Dramatic  Poets,  54,  293 

Giovio,  Paolo,  250 

Giusti,  260 


Gladstone,  W.  E.,  on  biography, 

170.  193.  197 

Godwin,  William,  Life  ofChaucert 
185 

Goethe,  Dichtung  und  Wahrheit, 
261-62 

Goldoni,  260 

Goldsmith,  Oliver,  Life  of  Vol 
taire.  88,  92;  Parnell,  88,  92; 
infuses  literary  charm  into 
biography,  92;  Nash,  92,  93; 
Bolingbroke,  92 ;  and  generality 
of  mankind  in  biography,  105- 
106;  as  probable  biographer 
of  Johnson,  126;  Vicar  of 
Wakefield,  106 

Goodwin,  C.  W.,  editor  Life  of 
St.  Guthlac,  ii 

Gosse,  Edmund,  73;  on  pane 
gyric  in  biography,  93-94; 
History  of  Eighteenth  Century 
Literature,  100;  on  Mason  and 
Boswell  in  Modern  English 
Literature,  128;  life  of  his 
father,  221;  Father  and  Son, 
228-29;  true  conception  of 
biography,  241-42 

Greville,  Fulke,  Lord  Brooke, 
Life  of  Sidney,  its  laboured 
style,  92-93;  mentioned  by 
Edward  Phillips,  243;  excel 
lent  description  of  Sidney's 
death,  275-76 

Guzman,  Fenian  P6rez  de,  Gene- 
raciones  y  Semblanzas,  249 

Gwynn,  Rev.  John,  editor  Book 
of  Armagh,  6 

Hacket,  John,  Scrinia  Reserata  : 

Memorial   of  John    Williams, 

90-91,  97,  107,  117 
Hall,  Joseph,  Characters,  54 
Hamerton,  P.  G.,  205,  210-11 
Hamilton,  N.  E.  S.  A..  Willelmi 

Malmesbiriensis,  20 
Hammond,  Eleanor  P.,  Chaucer  : 

A  Bibliographical  Manual,  59 
Hancock,  A.  E.,  John  Keats,  194 
Hardy,    Sir    T.    D.,    Descriptive 

Catalogue,    2-3,    5,    20,    24-25, 

288,  290 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


Hare,  A.  J.  C.,  Story  of  My  Life, 

205,  206-7 
Hare,   Julius,    Life    of   Sterling, 

192 
Harmsworth  Encyclopedia, quoted , 

92 
Harper,  J.  Rainey,  The  House  of 

Harper,  190 
Harte,     Rev.    Walter,    Life    of 

Gustavus  Adolphus,  91 
Harvey,  T.  Edmund,  editor  Fox's 

Journal,  quoted,  147-48 
Hawkins,  Sir  John,  on  Johnson's 

Life  of  Savage,    105;    Life  of 

Johnson,  112,  113,  114,  121 
Hayley,  William,  Life  of  Cowper, 

1 80-8 1 
Hayward,     Sir     John,     Life    of 

Edward  VI. ,  68 
Herbert  of  Bosham,    113;    Life 

of  Becket,  22 
Herbert  of  Cherbury,  Lord,  Life, 

142,  257,  297 
Heywood,    Thomas,    design    to 

write  lives  of  poets,  Hierarchy 

of  the  Blessed  Angels,  and  An 

A pology  for  Actors,  58 
Hill,  George  Birbeck,    117,    125, 

254,  281 
History  proper,  and  biography, 

xvi,  i,  14,  18,  21,  65,  67,  68,  73, 

77,   79-80,   91,    145,    146,    149, 

186-87,  190-92,  213-21,  264-65, 

278,  279,  285 

Hogg,  Thomas  Jefferson,  xii 
Holberg,  Louis,  261 
Hole,    Rev.    Charles,    see    Rev. 

Edward  Edwards 
Holinshed,  39,  44,  45 
Holland,  Henry,  289;  Heruologia 

Anglica,  51 
Home,  Dr.  George,  Olla  Podrida, 

quoted,  119 
Huet,  259 
Hume,  David,  149,  156,  202,  257, 

259,  262,  272 
Humphrey,    Lawrence,    Life    of 

Bishop  Jewell,  xviii 
Hunt,  Leigh,  203 
Huyshe,     Wentworth,     Transla 
tion  Life  of  St.  Columba,  5 


Jacob,    Giles,    Poetical   Register, 

56-57,  58,  293-94 
Jebb,  Mrs.,  Life  of  R.  C.  Jebb, 

196-97 
Jeffrey,     Francis,     150,     197-99, 

209-10 
Jenkins,  Herbert,  Life  of  Borrow, 

208 
John  of  Salisbury,  Life  of  Becket, 

22 

Johnson,  Samuel,  xii,  49,  106, 
113,  118  ff.,  130,  156,  158,  166, 
173.  196,  198,  220,  233,  234, 
271,  272,  274,  281;  Life  of 
Savage,  87,  104-5;  on  Gold 
smith,  92;  Idler,  quoted,  93, 
1 54-5  Si  Rambler,  quoted,  115; 
Lives  of  the  Poets,  similar  to 
Walton's  Lives,  75;  102;  no- 
1 1 ;  number  of  Lives  following 
within  seven  years  of  his  death, 
1 1 1  - 1 2 ;  see  also  Boswell's  Life 
of  Johnson 

Johnstone,  John,  Memoirs  of 
Samuel  Parr,  quoted,  113 

Jonson,  Ben,  Characters,  54 

Jortin,  John,  Life  of  Erasmus,  91 

Juigne-Broissiniere,  246 

Kennet,  Dr.  White,  History  of 
England,  68;  quoted,  214 

Kingsley,  Mrs.,  Life  of  Charles 
Kingsley,  176,  180 

Kippis,  Andrew,  251 

Knapp,  W.  I.,  Life  of  Borrow,  208 

Knox,  Vicesimus,  Lucubrations, 
quoted,  120-21 

Kotzebue,  261 

L'Advocat,    Abbe,    Dictionnaire 

des  Grands  Hommes,  247 
Lady  Morgan,   Life   of  Salvator 

Rosa,  280 

Lament  of  Deor,  The,  131 
Lang,  Andrew,  Life  of  Lockhart, 

162,  163,  166-67,  222 
Langbaine,  Gerard,  58;    English 

Dramatic  Poets,  54,  293 
Lavater,  261 
Leadam,    I.    S.,    article    "  John 

Blakman,"  D.  N.  B.,  26 


INDEX 


319 


Lee,  Sir  Sidney,  Life  of  Shake 
speare,  131,  310;  Principles  of 
Biography,  163,  231,  234,  235, 
249,  279,  285;  Dictionary  of 
National  Biography,  195,  249; 
"  At  a  Journey's  End,"  249 

Leland,  John,  47,  49,  50,  58,  89, 
247,  267;  Commentarii  de 
Scriptoribus  Britanniae,  287- 
88,  290 

Leopardi,  260 

Lermontov,  250 

Letters  of  Lindamira,  107 

Letters  Written  by  Eminent  Per 
sons,  etc.,  39,  59 

Lewes,  George  Henry,  Life  of 
Goethe,  187-88,  261-62,  266 

Life  of  Charles  I.,  anonymous,  68 

Lives  of  Eminent  Antiquaries, 
Leland,  Hearne,  etc.,  89 

Lloyd,  Nicholas,  248 

Lockhart,  John  Gibson,  169,  170, 
171,  173,  274;  Life  of  Scotf, 
106,  160-67,  1 68.  171,  172,  185, 
222,  224,  251,  262,  271,  273, 
276,  279 

London  Magazine,  no 

Long,  George,  general  biographi 
cal  dictionary  of  D.  U.  K. 
Society,  248 

Longfellow,  Samuel,  Life  of 
H.  W.  Longfellow,  quoted,  89, 
130,  203,  282 

Lounsbury,  Thomas  R.,  59,  87; 
Studies  in  Chaucer,  28,  49,  185 

Lydgate,  John,  St.  Margaret,  3 1 ; 
St.  Edmund  and  Fremund,  3 1 ; 
connecting  link  between  lives 
of  saints  and  The  Mirror  for 
Magistrates,  37 

Lyttleton,  George  Lord,  Life  of 
King  Henry  the  Second,  91 

Macaulay,  T.  B.,   57,    178,   180, 

193 

Machiavel,  242 
Macmillan's  Magazine,  125 
Macray,  William  Dunn,  Chronicon 

Abbatiae  de  Evesham,  132 
Mactheni,  Muirchu  Maccu,   Life 

of  St.  Patrick,  5-6,  15 


Maitland,  Frederic,  Life  of  Leslie 
Stephen,  175,  196,  225,  310 

Marchand,  Prosper,  Dictionnaire 
Historique,  247 

Mason,  Rev.  William,  Life  of 
Gray,  77,  107-10;  use  of  letters 
in,  xv,  107-8;  makes  Gray 
his  own  biographer,  109;  ap 
pends  "  Character "  to  the 
Life,  109-10;  117,  122,  128,  130 

Masson,  David,  Carlyle  Personally 
and  in  his  Writings,  175,  177; 
Life  of  Milton,  186,  190; 
DrummondofHawthornden,  186 

Medici,  Lorenzino  de,  260 

Memoir  of  Oldys,  91 

Meres,  Francis,  Palladis  Tamia 
(Wit's  Commonwealth),  58 

Middleton,  Conyers,  Life  of  Cicero, 
91,  107 

Mill,  J.  R.,  262 

Mill  on  the  Floss,  228 

Milne,  James,  quoted,  226 

Minor,  Benjamin  Blake,  The 
Southern  Literary  Messenger, 
189-90 

Minto,  William,  Life  of  Defoe, 
85-86 

Mirror  for  Magistrates,  The,  xix- 
xx,  37-38 

Misch,  Georg,  Geschichte  der 
Autobiographic,  201 

Mitchell,  Donald  Grant,  Doctor 
Johns,  229 

Monluc,  254,  256 

Moore,  Thomas,  Life  of  Byron, 
1 80;  failure  with,  181-82 

More,  Sir  Thomas,  Edward  VI., 
Richard  III.,  68 

Moreri,  Louis,  Grand  Dictionnaire, 
247 

Morley,  Henry,  English  Writers, 
132;  on  Thomas  Dempster, 
135;  Life  of  Cardan,  188 

Morley,  John,  Rousseau,  188; 
English  Men  of  Letters,  196; 
Life  of  Gladstone,  218,  221,  235 

Morris,  Mowbray,  on  Froude's 
Carlyle,  171 

Morris,  William,  Kelmscott  edi 
tion  Cavendish's  Wolsey,  66-67 


320 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


Murray,  John,  editor  Gibbon's 
Autobiographies,  153 

Murray's  New  English  Dictionary, 
for  biography  and  its  com 
pounds,  77 ;  for  autobiography, 
130 

National  biography,  Dictionaries 
of,  Swedish,  Dutch,  Austrian, 
Belgian,  German,  English,  249 

Nennius,  History  of  the  Britons, 

50 

Nepos,  Cornelius,  238,  242 
New  International  Encyclopedia, 

quoted,  234-35 
Niebuhr,  Berthold  G.,  187 
Nineteenth  Century  and  After,  249 
North,  Roger,  Lives  of  the  Norths, 
98-99,126-27,227;   and  pane 
gyric,     98-99,     126-27;      and 
redivival  biography,  227 
North,    Thomas,    and   Plutarch, 

68,  243,  244 
Nouvelle  Biographie  Ginirale,  247 

Oldys,  William,  on  Thomas 
Fuller,  52-53;  first  editor  Bio- 
graphia  Britannica,  57;  and 
panegyric,  93-95 ;  and  spirit  of 
research  in  biography,  91 ; 
Life  of  Raleigh,  91,  222 

Oliphant,  Margaret,  205 ;  William 
Blackwood,  189;  her  autobio 
graphy,  202,  206,  263 ;  "  The 
Ethics  of  Biography,"  231 

Olympiodorus,  238 

Orme,  William,  145,  146 

Overbury,  Sir  Thomas,  Char 
acters,  54 

Palmer,  George  Herbert,  Life  of 
Alice  Freeman  Palmer,  235, 
265-66,  271 

Parker,  William  Belmont,  Life 
of  Sill,  233 

Parr,  Richard,  Life  of  Usher,  89, 
107,  117 

Parr,  Samuel,  and  Hawkins'  Life 
of  Johnson,  113;  his  own  con 
ception  of  writing  Johnson's 
Life,  xii,  128-29 


Paul,  Herbert,  Life  of  Froude, 
172,  179,  223 

Paule,  Sir  George,  Life  of  Arch 
bishop  Whitgift,  xviii 

Peck,  Francis,  251 

Penn,  William,  147 

Perrin,  Bernadotte,  on  Plutarch, 
80 

Perry,  Rev.  George  G.,  St.  Hugh 
of  Lincoln,  23,  24;  on  Scrinia 
Reserata,  go,  97 

Petit-Dutaillis,  Ch.,  Revue  de 
Synth&se  historique,  310 

Petrarch,  255,  260 

Phillimore,  J.  S.,  Philostratus, 
238 

Phillips,  Edward,  Theatrum  Poet- 
arum,  54,  243,  291;  Life  of 
Milton,  242-43 

Phillips,  Lawrence  B.,  Dictionary 
Biographical  Reference,  310 

Philostratus,  238,  239,  245 

Pindar,  Peter  (Dr.  John  Wolcot), 
Bozzy  and  Piozzi,  120 

Piozzi,  Mrs.,  Anecdotes  of  Dr. 
Johnson,  112,  113,  114,  117, 
123,  124,  126;  120 

Pits,  John,  47,  48,  49,  267;  De 
Illustribus  Britanniae  Scrip' 
toribus,  247,  289,  290,  291 

Plummer,  Rev.  Alfred,  The 
Churches  in  Britain  Before 
A.D.  1000,  quoted,  2,  36 

Plummer,  Rev.  C.,  Baedae  Opera 
Historica,  quoted,  15 

Plutarch,  xL  xx,  80,  117,  118, 
237-38,  239-40,  241,  242,  243- 
44,  249,  252,  279;  Parallel 
Lives,  16,  68,  71-72,  75,  77,  238 

Poole,  R.  L.,  and  Mary  Bateson, 
editors  Bale's  Index,  288 

Pope,  Alexander,  first  purely 
literary  man  to  be  made  sub 
ject  of  biography,  86-88 

"  Portuguese  Letters,"  107 

Pott,  J.  A.,  Greek  Love  Songs  and' 
Epigrams,  quoted,  206 

Pushkin,  250 

Quaker  group  of  autobiographers, 
140-41 ;  list  of,  298-99 


INDEX 


321 


Quarterly    Review,    quoted,    131, 

170;  245 
Querini,  260 

Raine,  James,  Historians  of  York, 
quoted,  7 

Rait,  Robert  S..  Life  of  Gough, 
221-22 

Raleigh,  Professor  Sir  Walter, 
Six  Essays  on  Johnson,  quoted 
in  regard  to  Walton's  Lives,  74; 
Edmund  Curll,  83;  Johnson's 
Lives  of  the  Poets,  102;  John 
son's  Life  of  Savage,  105; 
Boswell's  Life  of  Johnson,  126; 
writers  in  Middle  Ages,  133; 
The  English  Novel,  86 

Reeves,  Dr.  William,  edition  Life 
of  St.  Columba,  4,  5,  16 

Richardson,  Samuel,  Pamela,  99, 
106,  108;  his  "handy  letter- 
writer,"  1 08 

Richter,  261 

Robert  of  Gloucester,  and  verse 
lives  of  saints,  30,  31;  his 
Metrical  Chronicle,  30,  31; 
text  of  his  Life  of  St.  Alban, 
33-36 

Roberts,  William,  Life  of  Hannah 
More,  162,  1 80 

Robertson,  James  Craigie,  Mate 
rials  for  the  History  of  Thomas 
Becket,  22 

Robinson  and  Rolfe,  Francesco 
Petrarcha,  255 

Romilly,  Sir  Samuel,  203 

Roper,  William,  xviii;  Life  of 
More,  61-63;  66,  67,  71,  117, 
269,  271 

Rousseau,  Jean  Jacques,  Con 
fessions,  257-59 

Rowan,  Frederica,  translator 
Life  of  Schleiermacher,  1 88 

Rowe,  Nicholas,  Life  of  Shake 
speare,  86,  305. 

Ruffhead,  Owen,  Life  of  Pope,  87 

Ruskin,  John,  204,  226 

Saint  Cuthbert,  Life  of,  anony 
mous  prose,  7;  anonymous 
verse,  32-33 


Sainte-Beuve,  C.  A.,  Port-Royal, 

quoted,  255 
Saintsbury,  George,  166;  History 

of  English    Prosody,    30,    31; 

The   English   Novel,    36,    208; 

History  of  Nineteenth  Century 

Literature,  161-62 
Sand,  George,  259 
Scott,  Sir  Walter,  Life  of  Dry  den, 

1 86;    see  also  unde*  Lockhart; 

273 

Seeley,  John  Robert,  Life  and 
Times  of  Stein,  188 

Shakespeare,  William,  King 
Henry  VIII.,  40,  44,  45,  64; 
the  Sonnets  as  autobiography, 
131;  and  Plutarch,  244;  bio 
graphies  of,  302-10;  text  of 
Fuller's  attempt,  302-3;  Au 
brey's,  303-4;  Langbaine's, 
304-5;  Rowe's,  305;  Gibber's, 
305-6;  account  in  Biographia 
Britannica,  306-10;  Life  by 
Sidney  Lee,  mentioned,  131, 
310 

Shaw,  William,  Life  of  Johnson, 
112 

Shelley,  xii 

Sheppard,  John  G.,  Theophrasti 
Characteres,  55 

Shiels,  Robert,  57 

Shotwell,  James  Thomson,  on 
scientific  method  in  history, 
186-87 

Sichel,  Walter,  Bolingbroke  and 
his  Times,  217-18 

Sime,  James,  Lessing,  188 

Smiles,  Samuel,  John  Murray, 
189 

Smith,  Captain  Alexander,  Lives 
of  Highwaymen,  etc.,  104 

Smith,  D.  Nichol,  Eighteenth 
Century  Essays  on  Shakespeare, 

305 

Smith,  Thomas,  letter  to  Thomas 
Hearne,  quoted,  39 

Smith,  Dr.  William,  Dictionary 
of  Greek  and  Roman  Biography, 
248;  and  Dr.  Wace,  Diction 
ary  of  Christian  Biography, 
248 


322 


ENGLISH  BIOGRAPHY 


Southey,  Robert,  first  use  of 
word  autobiography,  130-31; 
Annual  Review,  180-81,  185; 
Life  of  Nelson,  171,  180 

Spedding,  James,  Life  of  Bacon, 
1 86 

Spence,  Joseph,  and  anecdotes, 
117 

Spencer,  Herbert,  Autobiography, 
210,  225,  259,  262,  273;  cul 
mination  of  scientific  self- 
delineation,  259 

Sprat,  Thomas,  Life  of  Cowley, 
75-77,  86,  94,  95;  and  pane 
gyric,  75-76;  and  use  of 
familiar  correspondence,  xv, 
76-77,  108-9 

Standard  Books  (Nelson's),  for 
bibliography  of  biography,  310 

Stanley,  Arthur  Penrhyn,  Life 
of  Arnold,  167-68,  171,  176 

Stanly,  Thomas,  243 

Steele,  Sir  Richard,  The  English 
man,  review  of  criminal  bio 
graphies,  104 

Stephen,  Sir  James,  on  Reliquiae 
Baxterianae,  145  -46 ;  Essays 
in  Ecclesiastical  Biography,  on 
Boswell's  method  of  biography, 
159-60 

Stephen,  Leslie,  196, 197, 225,233; 
and  Dictionary  of  National 
Biography,  194-95,249;  Studies 
of  a  Biographer,  169,  175,  176, 
220-21,  249;  on  Carlyle  in 
D.  N.  B.,  175;  Hours  in  a 
Library,  211 

Sterne,  Laurence,  Tristram 
Shandy,  106;  his  biography 
deferred,  227 

Stevenson,  Rev.  Joseph,  The 
Church  Historians  of  England, 
quoted,  10-11, 12,  13,  15,  17-18, 

132-33 
Stevenson,    W.    H.,    edition    of 

Asser'sAlfredthe  Great,  quoted, 

12,  13,  14,  16 

Stigand,  William,  Heine,  188 
Stilling,  261 
Storer,     Sir    Thomas,     Life     of 

Wolsey  (verse),  xx,  38-45 


Stubbs,  William,  Memorials  of 
St.  Dunstan,  quoted,  14;  Wil- 
lelmi  Malmesbiriensis  Monachi 
de  Gestis  Regum  Anglorum,  20 

Stuckenberg,  J.  H.  W.,  Life  of 
Kant,  1 88,  194 

Suetonius,  239,  242 

Suidas,  Lexicon,  245 

Symonds,  J.  A.,  Life  of  Michael- 
angelo  Buonarroti,  188-89 

Tacitus,  Life  of  Agricola,  238, 
239,  252 

Taine,  H.  A.,  History  of  English 
Literature,  191-92 

Tanner,  Thomas,  Bibliotheca 
Britannico-Hibernica,  47,  287, 
290 

Temple,  William,  "Character" 
of  Thomas  Gray,  no 

Tennyson,  Alfred,  Maud,  131; 
In  Memoriam,  193;  Merlin 
and  the  Gleam,  as  his  auto 
biography,  28 1 ;  sonnet  as 
preface  to  Becket,  281-82 

Tennyson,  Hallam,  Life  of  Alfred 
Tennyson,  180,  282 

Thegan,  Life  ofLudwig  the  Pious, 

Theophrastus,  Characters,  54 ; 
edited  by  John  G.  Sheppard,  55 

Thurston,  Herbert,  Life  of  St. 
Hugh  of  Lincoln,  23 

Todd,  James  Henthorn,  St. 
Patrick,  Apostle  of  Ireland, 
quoted,  6 

Toland,  John,  Life  of  Milton, 
97-98 

Torrentinus,  Hermannus,  Eluci- 
darius  Carminum,  etc.,  fore 
runner  of  biographical  dic 
tionaries,  245-46,  247 

Traubel,  Horace,  With  Walt 
Whitman  in  Camden,  xii,  177- 
78,  232-33,  233-34 

Trelawny,  Edward  J.,  xii 

Trevelyan,  G.  O.,LifeofMacaulay, 
57,  170,  171,  178,  180,  193, 

221 

Tuckerman,  Bayard,  History  of 
English  Prose  Fiction,  85 


INDEX 


323 


Tusser,  Thomas,  45;  autobio 
graphy,  136-37,  297 

Tyers,  Thomas,  sketch  of  John 
son's  life,  1 1 2 

Valery-Radot,     Rene,     Life     of 

Pasteur,  250 
Valois,      Marguerite     de,      first 

woman    autobiographer,    256, 

260 
Vasari,     Giorgio,     Lives    of    the 

Artists,  250 
Venable,     William     Henry,     A 

Buckeye  Boyhood,  228-29 
Vennar,  Richard,  autobiography, 

137-38,  256,  297 
Verdier,   Anton,    Prosopographia 

Universalis,  246 
Vico,  259 
Villani,  Filippo,  250 

Walker,  Hugh,  English  Essay 
and  Essayists t  5  5 ;  Literature 
of  the  Victorian  Era,  162,  164, 
167,  179,  182,  188 

Walpole,  Horace,  142;  Cata 
logue  of  Royal  and  Noble 
Authors,  57,  295 

Walton,  Izaak,  69-75;  first  de 
liberate  biographer,  xvii-xviii, 
69;  his  Lives,  69-75,  262,  269; 
influence  of  Plutarch  upon,  72 ; 
methods  employed,  73 ;  use  of 
correspondence,  etc.,  73;  his 
optimism,  73;  Wordsworth's 
sonnet  on  the  Lives,  74;  The 
Compleat  Angler,  xviii,  72,  75; 
his  digressions,  75;  76;  92,  107, 
117,  241,  243,  244,  271,  274 

Wanley,  u 

Ware,  Sir  James,  De  Scriptoribus 
Hiberniae,  47,  290 

Watkins,  John,  Universal  Bio 
graphical  Dictionary,  quoted, 
157 


Watts,  Isaac,  Logic,  on  writing 
lives,  213 

Wendell,  Barrett,  English  Com 
position,  quoted,  191 

Wharton,  Henry,  290 

Whibley,  Charles,  quoted,  64-65 

Whitman,  Walt,  Leaves  of  Grass, 
283;  see  also  Horace  Traubel 

Widsith,  the  Far  Wanderer,  131 

Wilkins,  Dr.  David,  editor  Tan 
ner's  Bibliotheca,  47 

William  of  Malmesbury,  20,  2 1 ; 
Gesta.  20;  Life  of  St.  Aldhelm, 
22;  St.  Wulstan,  22 

Wilson,  David,  Mr.  Froude  and 
Carlyle,  174 

Windelband,  Geschichte  der  Philo 
sophic,  255 

Winkworth,  Susanna,  editor- 
translator  Life  and  Letters  of 
Niebuhr,  188 

Winstanley,  William,  Lives  of 
English  Poets,  54,  292 

Winter,  William,  Old  Friends, 
quoted,  224 

Wood,  Anthony,  and  John  Au 
brey,  59  -  61,  81  -  82,  124; 
Athenae  Oxonienses,  54,  59, 
292;  Life  and  Times  of,  186; 
268 

Wordsworth,  William,  45;  son 
net  on  Walton's  Lives,  74; 
Scorn  not  the  Sonnet,  131; 
The  Prelude,  203 ;  prose  auto 
biography,  203;  and  pane 
gyric,  in  letter  to  James  Gray, 
229-31;  281 

Wright,  Thomas,  Biographica 
Britannica  Literaria,  20 

Wright,  Dr.  W.  Aldis,  editor 
Metrical  Chronicle  of  Robert  of 
Gloucester,  30-31 

Xenophon,  Memorabilia,  xii,  122, 
237,  239,  241 


CT 
21 
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